Past Their Prime Nightlife Years, They’d Just Like A Good Night’s Sleep

On the off chance that marketers decide to pay attention to older consumers—i.e., the people with the most money to spend—they’ll have a drowsy crowd on their hands. Commissioned by the International Longevity Center-USA and fielded by Gallup, a survey of Americans age 50 and older finds sleep (or the lack thereof) is a major concern. Twentysomethings may be a bit logy after a night at the after-hours clubs, but sleep rises to the level of a health issue for many of their 50-plus elders.

Forty-six percent of those in the 50-and-up cohort get less than seven hours of sleep on an average night, including 20 percent who get less than six hours. Thirty-eight percent said they get a good night’s sleep an average of four or fewer nights per week. Thirty-four percent believe they need more sleep than they’re getting; half of those who feel this way think they have “a sleep problem.” Few 50-plusers regard lack of sleep as a trivial matter: 86 percent think it’s generally bad for one’s health, and 79 percent think it can raise one’s risk of serious illness. Nor do people in this age bracket think they’ve outgrown the need for a full night’s sleep: A minority of them (39 percent) subscribed to the notion that “the older you get, the less sleep you need.”

You’d think all this would be a boon to the prescription-sleep-medication industry. It turns out, though, that many 50-plusers are wary of such drugs. Among those who believe they have a sleep problem, just 25 percent said they take prescription sleep medications. Safety concerns clearly suppress demand for such drugs: 73 percent of respondents said they’re concerned about the medications’ “long-term effects”; 68 percent worry about becoming addicted; 67 percent fear they’ll feel groggy during the day; 63 percent worry about interactions with other medications they take. Apart from prescription medications, 11 percent of those with sleep problems take over-the-counter sleep drugs. Nearly as many (8 percent) use over-the-counter antihistamines and cold medicines to help themselves sleep. Six percent use prescription drugs that weren’t prescribed for sleep problems, matching the number who use herbal remedies.

Prominent among the factors that interfere with 50-plusers sleep is worry: 37 percent said worrying has made it harder for them to fall asleep during the past month; 26 percent said it has made it harder for them to stay asleep. In a pinch, they could watch television and see if that knocks them out. After all, 22 percent of respondents reported having dozed off while watching a TV show or movie they’d wanted to see.