Sleep problems in later life

Retirement and current employment

Several people we talked to who were aged over 65 were still working part-time. Some had retired from their main career then started another different part-time job in retirement, whilst others continued with their careers but had changed to working fewer hours. P. retired when he was 65, but 30 years later was still studying, researching and writing publications. He regularly travels to London for his unpaid work and didn’t envisage he would ever give up.

Several people we spoke to believed there was a strong link between the amount of physical activity they undertake and how well they sleep, with the majority believing they sleep less well in retirement because they are less active, even though they may be doing all they can during the day to keep busy. Anne also thought there was a link between mental activity and poor sleep. Now she isn’t working her brain is less active, and Anne believes that may be why she often lays awake at night thinking about things.
Those who worked part-time believed working affected their sleep in two ways. Most of them believed they slept better because they were more physically and mentally tired, but they also were aware that they probably got less sleep overall on the days they worked because they needed to set their alarms to get up.  Some of those who worked told us they tended to go to bed earlier the night before they worked because they knew they would find it difficult to manage if they didn’t, largely because they found working more tiring now they were older.
Retirement also brings the possibility of changing daily routines. Some of the people we spoke to did change their routines, whilst others carried on very much as they did when they were working. Those who decided to change their routines after their retirement had looked forward to having the freedom not to set the alarm, and to go to bed and get up when they wanted.
The flexibility of not having to get up in the morning and go to work also meant that people could be less worried about the fact that they weren’t sleeping so well in the night.
Others, however, were disappointed in the changes that retirement brought. Roy was looking forward to being more relaxed in retirement, but has found he has more to worry about now and this keeps him awake at night.
 
Napping wasn’t usually possible when people were working, but since retirement more people found they might nap or doze during the day because they were able to. Those who worked part-time also found it useful to be able to nap during the day, either before they go to work to give them the energy they needed, or after they worked if they were particularly tired. A few of those who were working found they got more tired, more quickly now that they were older and that napping was something they scheduled in the day to cope with that.
Several people had noticed a gradual change in their sleep since they retired, but thought this was due to several reasons. Some believed the change was because they altered their daily routines, such as when they went to bed or when they got up in the morning. Others felt that it was more likely to be because they were getting older, or perhaps their health was worsening. Some people told us they noticed they were waking up a lot more in the night to go to the toilet or for other reasons since they retired (see 'Going to the toilet in the night'). Sometimes it was a combination of several reasons post-retirement.
Whilst retirement brought the possibility of not having to get up early go to work and more time during the day to relax, many of the people we spoke to found they wanted to carry on with their pre-retirement routines, and even felt guilty if they had a ‘lay in’ in the morning. P. described this as being a part of both his puritanical upbringing and a strict work ethic.

Last reviewed September 2015.

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