Senior Citizens with Sleep Problems May Have
Suffered Emotional Abuse in Childhood
Research points specifically to emotional abuse,
rather than physical abuse or emotional neglect
June 8, 2011 - Many senior citizens who suffer
through sleepless nights in old age may find the root of their problem
goes back to a very early age – when they were emotionally abused by
It was specifically emotional abuse - rather than
physical abuse or emotional neglect - that was tied to trouble in
getting a good night’s sleep.
“A negative early attachment continues to exert an
influence on our well being decades later through an accumulation of
stressful interpersonal experiences across our lives,” said Cecilia Y.
M. Poon, MA, the study’s lead author. “The impact of abuse stays in the
system. Emotional trauma may limit a person’s ability to fend for
themselves emotionally and successfully navigate the social world”
The data was taken from the National Survey of
Midlife Development in the United States. In 1995, approximately 3,500
adults responded to questions about their childhood. A decade later,
they were asked follow-up questions about sleep, relationships, and
emotional distress. Poon's study looked at the answers from those age 60
During the second round of interviews, the
participants were asked how often within the previous 30 day they had
● trouble falling asleep,
● woke up during the night and had difficulty going back to sleep,
● woke up too early in the morning and were unable to get back to
● felt unrested during the day no matter how many hours of sleep they
Emotional abuse was assessed by asking participants
how often their mother and father insulted or swore at them, sulked or
refused to talk to them, stomped out of the room, did or said something
to spite them, threatened to hit them, or smashed or knocked something
The same survey found that emotional abuse during
childhood also was associated with poorer relationships in adulthood.
Poon speculated that this lack of support, associated with stress,
likely influences sleep quality.
Older adults need about the same amount of sleep
as younger adults (7 to 9 hours nightly), according to Mayo
Clinic sleep specialist Timothy Morgenthaler, M.D.
study published in the February, 2010, issue of the journal
SLEEP, reported older adults sleep about 20 minutes less than
middle-aged adults, who sleep 23 minutes less than young adults.
“As you get older, however, your sleeping
patterns may change. Older adults tend to sleep more lightly and
awaken more frequently during the night than do younger adults.
This may create a need for or tendency toward daytime napping,”
writes in a
Mayo Clinic Q&A.
“If your sleep is frequently interrupted or cut
short, you're not getting quality sleep — and the quality of
your sleep is just as important as the quantity,” he adds.
Dr. Morgenthaler points out that lack of sleep
can affect your immune system.
“Studies show that people who don't get a good
night's sleep or who don't get enough sleep are more likely to
get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common
cold. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you
do get sick,” he says.
“During sleep, your immune system releases
proteins called cytokines. These substances increase in the
presence of an infection, inflammation and stress. Increased
cytokines are necessary in fighting infection and regulating
deeper sleep. In addition, other infection-fighting cells are
reduced during periods of sleep deprivation. So, your body needs
sleep to fight infectious diseases.
“How much sleep do you need to bolster your
immune system? The optimal amount of sleep for most adults is
seven to eight hours a night. School-aged children and
adolescents need nine or more hours of sleep a night.
“But be careful; more sleep is not always better.
For adults, sleeping more than nine to 10 hours a night has been
associated with weight gain, heart problems, stroke, sleep
disorders, depression and other health concerns.”