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Sleeping Easier After Retirement

Study Shows End of Work-Related Stress May Bring Decrease in Sleep Disturbance

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 2, 2009 -- Retirement may lead to better sleep for those who don't retire due to health reasons, a new study indicates.

Reporting in the Nov. 1 issue of the journal Sleep, Finnish scientists say the prevalence of sleep disturbances drops sharply after retirement.

This suggests that tossing and turning results from work-related demands and stress, the researchers say. Retirement has health benefits, they argue, but sleep may improve because stress declines.

However, "in countries and positions where there is no proper pension level to guarantee financial security beyond working age ... retirement may be followed by severe stress, disturbing sleep even more than before retirement," says study researcher Jussi Vahtera, MD, PhD, of the University of Turku in Finland, in a news release.

The researchers analyzed records of employees from the French national gas and electricity company, Electricite de France-Gaz de France, who retired between 1990 and 2006. Employees benefited from a retirement pension of 80% of their salary. Data were analyzed from 11,581 male workers and 3,133 female workers who reported sleep disturbances at least once before and once after the year of retirement. Among the study participants, 72% had retired by age 55 and 99% by 60.

Annual surveys were done ranging from seven years before retirement to seven years after. Participants answered questions about health, lifestyle, individual, familial, social, and occupational issues. The company also collected data on occupational and health data.

Results indicate sleep disturbances increase slowly with age, and researchers say this is evident both before and after retirement. However the overall levels of sleep disturbances were lower after retirement.

Before retirement, the researchers write that 22%-24% of participants reported sleep disturbance in any year, but that decreased to 17.8% in the first year after retirement. Although it increased to 19.7% in the seventh year after retirement, the percentage stayed lower than before retirement of the study period.

The only exception to the improved sleep after retirement was related to the 4% of people whose retirement was based on health reasons.

The researchers say that these days, when people are expected to live many years following the traditional retirement age, steps should be taken to help older workers remain economically active, as long as such steps don't compromise their future health.

However, because increasing numbers of people are living beyond retirement, most Western countries are pushing retirement age higher.

The fact that sleep disturbances tend to decrease after retirement raises the question of whether "the health and well-being of individuals are significantly worse" when they are still working, the researchers write. And that, they say, "presents a great challenge to improve the quality of work life in Western societies in which the cost of the aging population can only be met through an increase in average retirement age."

Vahtera says the study's findings "are largely applicable in situations where financial incentives not to retire are relatively weak."

SOURCES: American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Vahtera, J. Sleep, Nov. 11, 2009; vol 32.

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