Sleep problems in later life


Worries affected people’s sleep in many different ways. Some people found worrying stopped them getting to sleep because they couldn’t get their worries out of their minds. Others told us that when they woke up in the night, perhaps to go to the toilet, then their problems ‘crowded’ into their heads and they couldn’t get back to sleep. Occasionally worries stopped people from sleeping deeply and so they woke up often in the night. Others said that if they had something to worry about then they would wake up early in the morning and then wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep.
One or two people found it was much better to deal with any problems during the day, so that they didn’t take them to bed with them, and their sleep wouldn’t be disturbed. Several of the people we talked to were worrying about all sorts of issues in the night, only to wake in the morning and realise that the problems weren’t as significant as they thought they were. They even went as far as getting up to try and solve their problems in the night, or writing down the things that were worrying them, but were aware in the morning that they were probably worrying over nothing.
Some people have always been what they would class as ‘worriers’ and their sleep would often be disturbed by laying awake and worrying. Over the years work worries, health concerns, and concerns about children and other family members had kept them awake in the night. People talked about how, when they had young children, they would worry about them waking up in the night. When their children grew into teenagers and were out late at night, they would lay awake worrying about their whereabouts and whether they were going to come home safely. This could cause a disturbed sleeping pattern that continued as people got older.
A number of people said that concerns about their health had quite a significant impact on their sleep, particularly if they were already what they classed as a ‘worrier’.  Several of the people we spoke to had health problems, and they often worried about whether they would get better or worse, about forthcoming treatment, and about how their partners would manage without them.
Some people found they had more to worry about now they were retired. Roy told us that since he retired he was worrying about family members and business concerns, which often woke him in the night. Peter found that if he was sleeping badly because of a worry, this would also disturb his wife, and they may end up talking about their problems in the night.
Sometimes the main worry in the night was the worry of not being able to sleep. People were worried about not getting enough sleep, particularly if they had things they had to do the next day. Some people said the more they worry about not sleeping the more awake they become.
Very often, when people were worrying in the night, they found themselves going over and over things in their heads, and sometimes the thoughts could turn into bad dreams or even nightmares.
Not everyone we talked to was kept awake at night through worrying. A few people never, or at least very rarely, were awake in the night because of worries. Ronald was a great believer in sorting out his problems to the best of his ability during the day and was never woken by worries. Carol never lets worries keep her awake at night, even when she has lots of problems, and wonders whether that is normal. Others said they were never really great worriers, and weren’t disturbed very often by problems that might arise.

Last reviewed October 2018.


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