Taking the time to go places, visit friends or take a walk in the park, socialize and meet new people or just walk outside the familiar walls of our home is more than a social necessity. It is good for our physical and mental health.
Unfortunately, seniors who don’t sleep well don’t leave their home turf.
A study by a team of University of Florida Health researchers found that older adults who reported worsening sleep patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic tended to limit their movement outside of the bedroom and into the wider world. The association was seen even when controlling for the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus.
The findings were published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
“Reporting that sleep worsened slightly or much worse during the pandemic was associated with more limited movement in their environment,” said lead author Emily Smail, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the UF College of Medicine’s department of health outcomes. . and biomedical informatics and an affiliate member of the UF Institute on Aging.
“Living space mobility is associated with many adverse health outcomes,” she added. “Maintaining this mobility, especially during health threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can help preserve the health of older adults and improve their well-being during a particularly stressful time.”
It’s important, Smail said, that people continue to socialize and get out of the house in a way that doesn’t expose them to the virus. This, she said, could include meeting friends at the park, picnicking, hiking and other outdoor activities.
Smail said sleep disturbance is common during periods of stress. Indeed, a recent study noted a 37% increase in insomnia rates during the pandemic.
Smail said sleep protection is an important intervention to help older adults maintain movement and avoid negative consequences. They include depression, reduced cognitive function, obesity, higher risk of becoming frail and even death.
“We need to move and socialize and connect with other people to maintain health, physically and mentally,” Smail said.
The study used data collected in May and June 2020 – near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – from a survey of more than 900 people aged 60 and over, with an average age of 73. Participants were asked about a variety of things, including their sleep patterns and movements before and after the start of the pandemic. These movements were categorized into five “areas”.
So, for example, respondents were asked how often before and after the start of the pandemic they visited rooms in their home outside of the bedroom. This was expanded in subsequent questions to include the area immediately outside their home, such as the yard or garage or places in the neighborhood and, finally, trips outside the city.
Other questions focused on sleep, where participants were asked, among other things, how their sleep had changed during the pandemic.
The results showed a statistically significant relationship between sleep and living space mobility, with sleep quality decreasing after the onset of the pandemic for up to 18% of study participants. Mobility
fell by about 8% for people who reported that their sleep after the pandemic was “much worse,” compared to those whose sleep remained the same.
“These results are consistent with previous literature suggesting that sleep is associated with movement,” the study noted. “This relationship may stem from the physical consequences of poor sleep, including fatigue, pain and inflammation that discourage mobility.”
Smail said sleep deprivation can also affect a person’s motivation to try new or rarely used methods of exercise and socialization.
“All of this tells us that we can look for sleep interventions that can improve sleep or encourage people to get outside to improve the health and social well-being of older adults,” Smail said.
Quality sleep, of course, is important even when the world isn’t held hostage by a virus, she noted. Sleep problems like chronic insomnia can lead to poor health even at the best of times. And people who aren’t feeling well seem to stay closer to home, which can have a negative impact on their well-being.
Other co-authors of the study are Christopher Kaufmann, Ph.D.; Kira Riehm, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University; Mamoun Mardini, Dr. UF graduate student Erta Cenko, MSPH; UF Graduate Research Assistant Chen Bai; and senior author Todd Manini, Ph.D.
Kaufmann, Mardini and Manini are faculty members at the UF Institute on Aging.
Media Contact: Bill Levesque, [email protected] or 352-265-9417