Without Job Stress, Retirees Sleep Better

Nov. 5 (HealthDay News) -- What you're not doing once retired seems to make a good night's sleep come more easily.

A study of nearly 15,000 French workers who had retired found that the odds of having disturbed sleep in the seven years after retirement were 26 percent lower than in the seven years before they stopped working.

Sleep improvements probably had less to do with how they were spending their retirement, though, than with the removal of the demands and psychological stress associated with working, the researchers said.

The study's lead author called the finding a surprise. "Earlier studies showed a strong link between work stress and disturbed sleep, but research on the health consequences of retirement had produce conflicting results," said Dr. Jussi Vahtera, a professor of public health at the University of Turku in Finland. "Retirement had been hypothesized to represent an additional stressor in some studies, but a relief in other studies."

The prevalence of sleep disturbances among the French retirees, all former employees of a government gas and electric company, fell from about 24 percent in the year before retirement to about 18 percent in the first year after retiring. No attempt was made to determine the specific type of sleep disturbances the retirees experienced.

The biggest reduction was seen among men who had reported depression or mental fatigue before retirement. Improvements in sleep after retiring were also most pronounced among men, management-level workers and workers who had been shift workers or had held jobs considered psychologically demanding.

The only retirees who failed to experience improved sleep were those who had quit working for health reasons.

The study participants had employment benefits that have become less common, including guaranteed job stability, a mandatory retirement age between 55 and 60 years and a pension that provided 80 percent of pre-retirement pay.

Workers with less generous benefits might not experience similar improvements in post-retirement sleep, Vahtera said.

"We believe these findings are largely applicable in situations where the financial incentives not to retire are relatively weak," he said. "In countries and positions where there is no proper pension level to guarantee financial security beyond working age, it might well be that retirement is followed by severe stress, disturbing sleep even more than before retirement."

Dr. James P. Krainson, medical director of the South Florida Sleep Diagnostic Center in Miami, called the study "interesting but preliminary."

"The data come from a single employer, and there is no analogous employer in the U.S.," he said. "Better sleep may be something to look forward to in retirement, but nothing is definitive in this report. More research is needed."

The study, published Nov. 1 in Sleep, was based on annual questionnaires completed by 11,581 men and 3,133 women who retired between 1990 and 2006 at an average age of 55.


SOURCES: James P. Krainson, M.D., medical director, South Florida Sleep Diagnostic Center, Miami; Jussi Vahtera, M.D., Ph.D., professor, public health, University of Turku, Finland; Nov. 1, 2009, Sleep

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