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Sleep problems in later life

Daytime sleep

Many people talked about napping, dozing, nodding or dropping off and catnapping during the day or early evening, and they often felt quite differently about it. Very often people talked about napping being an intentional daytime sleep, whereas dozing off was something they didn’t plan to happen. Some people were happy to have a nap during the day, and had many reasons why they might take a nap, or doze off. But others felt it was something they would rather not do.
 
For those who would rather not sleep during the day or evening, there were a range of reasons given, such as feeling it was a waste of time, or that it would mean they couldn’t do all they planned to do during the day. Several people resisted the idea of having a nap because they felt it showed they were getting older, because it was seen as something that ‘old’ people do, or that friends or family might think they were napping because they were getting older.
 

Juliet was loath to nap during the day, as suggested by her physiotherapist, because she didn’t...

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Female
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Well I just, I suppose somebody might say ‘oh well you think it is synonymous with old age’. It is not that. It’s that I feel if I got into that sort of body rhythm, and I was out for a day, you know, I might sort of feel tired when I wanted to do something else and be with people and what have you, and I don’t like these set routines that people can get into. I didn’t disregard it and I did say to her, okay yes, and I do fall asleep. In fact it happened yesterday as it happened. I had been watching the athletics because I enjoying watching that, and I think all those people, that dreadful climate in Japan, and I suddenly sort of felt quite tired and I just sort of turned the television down and closed my eyes and I had gone, but equally there are days when I am busy in there and it varies, and so I don’t like routines that you can’t get out of really.
Some people felt that sleeping in the day was a waste of time. Many people led very busy lives and didn’t want to waste time in the day by sleeping. Several people were concerned that if they slept during the day, it might affect how they slept at night.
 

Mike felt if he did start to nap it would signify he was getting older.

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Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
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Do you think there’ll ever come a time when you might [nap]?
 
Well I hope not. I hope not. Because I think it would reflect on the fact that I was really getting past it. But I suppose it could, yes it could come to it. I just feel that once you’re up and about and in day time mode, to then go and lay down for an hour or so, and then you’re like starting again aren’t you, and going through the whole of that morning routine thing, where you wake up, and you have a wash and a shower and whatever you’re going to do and now you’re awake and you feel a bit better because you’ve had your shower and everything, I think perhaps if you went back and had a lay down again, then you’re almost turning the clock back five or six hours. 
 
 

Falling asleep during the day makes Mary cross, especially as she has so many things to do.

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Age at interview: 72
Sex: Female
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I wouldn’t want to [sleep in the day] I have done sometimes, gone to watch the news with a cup of tea over there, and in the middle of the day and it’s because I’ve relaxed. So I could easily go to sleep in the day I suppose. But I would be very, very cross.
 
Would you. Why?
 
Well I would. And usually I’m supposed to be somewhere quite soon after that.
 
So how long would you fall asleep for in the day time do you think?
 
Ten minutes.
 
Okay so you’re not talking about having a nap for an hour?
 
oh no, no, no.
 
I programme my day from, to get things going, go here, do this, do that. And it wouldn’t fit in to go to sleep.
 
Do you think there will ever come a time when you might fit it into your day?
 
May be when the children are at secondary school and I don’t have to pick up from school or … but then I’ve got other things. No, I hope I will always be able to get up and do what I want to.
 
Do you think there’s anything wrong then with napping during the day?
 
No I would rather go for a walk. I think that’s relaxing. I just go on my own and its leafy and pretty and …
 
What about in the winter would you do it then?
 
Yes. I would still walk in the winter.  
 

John would rather not sleep during the evening as it might interfere with his sleep at night.

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Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
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I mean it doesn’t seem to make much difference to sleep, but they say a bit of exercise is not a bad idea. I read. Occasionally, occasionally I fall asleep, which is not a good thing. Even for a half an hour at half past seven in the evening is not going to help you sleep at night. So I try not to do that, but it just occasionally happens, it may be because I am tired, so it is a vicious circle isn’t it.
 
Yes, yes, it is. So you fall asleep sometimes?
 
Only occasionally but again once or twice a month I might doze off.
 
Okay what sort of time of day would that be?
 
Oh it is usually evening. When I am watching the football or something or tennis or something, I just …
 
And you don’t sleep during the day?
 
No. I generally can’t do that. The daylight, I don’t sleep during the day.
 
I mean if I did, it would be almost impossible to go to sleep. I know. I used to do nights at [Airport] many, many years ago. Oh that is going back thirty years now. If I went to sleep, it totally messes you up. I wouldn't want to do that ever again. Even though I got to sleep at night sometimes, it just wasn’t the same.
 
Those who didn’t like the idea of sleeping during the day often talked about the possible reasons for it. For example, being physically active, such as swimming or long walks, were often given as reasons for taking a nap afterwards. Others reasons for falling asleep during the day included being ill, such as having ‘flu, or a diagnosed sleep problem, such as sleep apnoea, which leads to poor quality sleep during the night. Several people talked of falling asleep in front of the television, either during the day or in the evening. In particular, some people talked about falling asleep in front of the television when they watched the news, (either the daytime news, or during evening news programmes such as News Night). Daphne explained how she tried very hard to stay awake for News Night, but nearly always fell asleep.
 

William can fall asleep after his breakfast, especially if he has been for an early morning swim.

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Age at interview: 78
Sex: Male
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Well we got this garden room and it gets nice and warm. I come back from swimming and [my wife] might be out, or she’s in the baths anyway, but later than me. Or sometimes we sit here doing something and I will take my breakfast out there with the paper and then she says ‘well, I’m going down so and so’ or she’s not here. She’s gone and I am reading the paper and then I look at my watch and its eleven and what has happened is that I’ve fallen asleep at quarter to ten or ten o’clock and I’ve slept, you know, I’ve gone off. But it’s lovely and cosy in there and of course there’s not any breeze or anything, so it’s the worst place to sit if you are sleepy and I’ve been up for three hours you know.
 
So how do you feel about then how you were sleeping then?
 
Well I often, I mean I look at it, I obviously needed the sleep. But I am annoyed that now I am at eleven o’clock and I was going to do so and so. And now, that’s the point.
 
So you would rather not do it if you could avoid it?
 
That’s right, but of course all I need do is sit in here and not sit in the nice atmosphere and read the paper.
 
So do you think subconsciously you know that if you go in there…?
 
I will, Yes. That’s where I fall asleep.
 

Daniel sleeps badly at night, possibly because of sleep apnoea, so he often dozes off during the...

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Age at interview: 78
Sex: Male
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Well I do, but as I mentioned to you earlier, probably off camera, about being diagnosed 1991 sleep apnoea. I do think it is related to that. I do doze during the day, and so I am tired, I feel tired during the day. I don’t mean the whole time during the day but there are just times, periods, so I don’t know whether it’s the sleep apnoea type of thing or whether it is that I have not had proper sleep for some reason. 
 

After a busy day Ronald can fall asleep in front of the television and miss seeing a programme he...

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Age at interview: 71
Sex: Male
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Well as I say that is the normal routine, but then if I am busy during the day, like today when I have finished here, if I go out to this allotment I have taken on, which is fairly physical work to get it straight, then get rather tired, come home in the evening, have a meal, and be watching television about half past seven and then just drop off to sleep, just like that.
 
And not realise you know, even watching a recording sometimes that we have recorded, want to watch it, but your body takes over and you just go to sleep and I can go to sleep for perhaps half an hour, three quarters of an hour.
 
Are you are trying to stay awake, you don’t want to fall asleep?
 
Well it just seems to happen. I don’t know that I am doing it. I wake up and wonder sometimes where you are for a little while, and then it sort of all dawns on you and then you think, oh dear I have missed half the programme you have recorded, it seems rather strange then.
Some people were quite happy to take a nap during the day, either by planning to have one at a particular time, or being aware that if they sat down at a certain time of day then they would naturally doze off.
 

Robert used to sleep during the day to cope with a lack of sleep at night whilst caring for his...

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Age at interview: 77
Sex: Male
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It meant just a change of pattern she didn’t like to go to sleep during the day because it interrupted her sleep at night. I on the other hand would lie on my couch over there and we would listen to music or something and I would just keep nodding off and sleep half an hour. So I was, my pattern changed to trying to sleep during the day and that went on for four months.
 
But it doesn’t worry me so much [broken night sleep] because I can have a little zzz zzz as my sister calls it in the armchair in the afternoon and I have got other things to stimulate me. I have to drive myself to get out of there. Plus the fact that I am very conscious that the body is still going through bereavement, bereaving, and could easily fall into a poor widower, at aged 77, a 77 year old widower who could just sit down and die, but it hasn’t got to be that way. 
Napping after a meal was often reported. Frank said that the combination of having just had a meal and sitting down to watch the news nearly always sent him off to sleep in the afternoon or evening. Others didn’t necessarily take time out to have a nap, but did make sure they rested and if they fell asleep then that was fine.  Roy recognises that he does get tired in the day and so will often go up to bed and have a lie down.
 
Some older people who were quite content to take a nap, talked about recognising that they needed more rest or sleep to keep up with their everyday activities. They often felt energised by napping so that they could do the things they wanted to do in the day. People often talked about the importance of listening to what their bodies were telling them, and to take a nap if they felt tired. Some people talked about receiving advice on napping.
 

Margaret feels guilty about having a sleep during the day, but is aware that she as she gets...

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Age at interview: 72
Sex: Female
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So how long have you been doing that, the day time sleep?
 
Very shortly. I would say the last two or three months. I have never been a person who sleeps in the day, but I just wonder. I suppose its old age coming on. It’s needing more sleep and I have a real belief and you know, this sleep is extremely good for you. And I think ‘oh how awful I mustn’t do this’. It’s guilty. I think it’s just an episode in the day when you’re building up for the rest of the day so that’s good.
 
So that was going to be my next question really is how do you feel about having this day time sleep?
 
It’s filled in time, its investment time so that I can do something else. For instance I need to practice my recorder. Well I never have time in the day. But I have enough energy in the evening to spend about a couple of hours practising. Because you do need to do that, if you are going to play with other people. You have got to be able to come up to scratch. 
 

Juliet describes how her physiotherapist suggested she take a nap in the afternoon to help her...

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Female
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What about napping, do you have a nap during the day?
 
Well that is an interesting one, I will find sometimes, when I have dropped off to sleep in my typing chair, but I mean I don’t just do it, but I will feel it coming on. And about a year ago I went over to the [hospital] and I had a very bad spell last summer and the RA consultant said I think you need to see the physio and I went over to see her, and I was referred over to the hospital to see the physio and the OT and both of them made some helpful suggestions about exercise and what have you but it was the physio that said to me, she said I think you need to sleep in the afternoon for half an hour. And I said well do you really, because I said I am very loathe to get into this, because I think once I have got in to it I will need to do it every day. And I said a) I am loathe in case it takes away the edge at night and makes you know, makes it longer or more difficult to get off and b) if I do feel tired during the day and there is nothing on, I will actually say oh I will just sit in the chair and then I find I have dropped off for a little while, so I don’t make a conscious effort to have a nap.
There are benefits to napping during the day, such as restoring alertness and promoting relaxation, as long as the nap is kept to 20-30 minutes duration. But it is important to be aware of the possible negative effects, such as affecting how well you sleep at night and a feeling of grogginess after a short nap of about 10 minutes.

Last reviewed October 2018.

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