Retirement brings with it a sharp decrease in the prevalence of sleep disturbances, says a new study.

The findings of the study suggest that this general improvement in sleep is likely to result from the removal of work-related demands and stress rather than from actual health benefits of retirement.

According to the results, the odds of having disturbed sleep in the seven years after retirement were 26 percent lower (adjusted odds ratio of 0.74) than in the seven years before retiring. Sleep disturbance prevalence rates among 14,714 participants fell from 24.2 percent in the last year before retirement, to 17.8 percent in the first year after retiring. The greatest reduction in sleep disturbances was reported in participants with depression or mental fatigue prior to retirement. The postretirement improvement in sleep also was more pronounced in men, management-level workers, employees who reported high psychological job demands, and people who occasionally or consistently worked night shifts.

Lead author, Jussi Vahtera, Professor in the Department of Public Health at the University of Turku in Finland, noted that the participants enjoyed employment benefits rarely seen today, including guaranteed job stability, a statutory retirement age between 55 and 60 years, and a company-paid pension that was 80 percent of their salary.

“We believe these findings are largely applicable in situations where financial incentives not to retire are relatively weak. In countries and positions where there is no proper pension level to guarantee financial security beyond working age, however, retirement may be followed by severe stress disturbing sleep even more than before retirement,” said Vahtera. Results also showed that there is a slowly increasing prevalence of sleep disturbances with increasing age, which can be observed both before and after retirement. The authors conclude that currently when people are expected to live many years beyond the traditional age of retirement, consideration should be given to the restructuring of working life to enable older workers to remain economically active without compromising their future health.

The study has been published in the latest issue of the journal Sleep.

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