November 4, 2009 / 7:29 PM / 10 years ago

People with pensions sleep better after retirement

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Retirees have something else to look forward to besides playing golf — much better sleep — particularly if they have decent retirement benefits and retire relatively early.

That’s what Dr. Jussi Vahtera of the University of Turku in Finland and colleagues found in a study of 14,714 people who had retired from the French national gas and electric company. But because the workers in the study had excellent retirement benefits, including generous pensions, the findings don’t apply to everyone, Vahtera noted in a prepared statement.

“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,” Vahtera said.

Sleep tends to get more disturbed with age, the researchers note in the journal Sleep, while work schedules and job stress can also disrupt sleep. To investigate how retirement affected sleep, the researchers followed the workers for seven years before they retired and for seven years afterwards.

Their average age at retirement was 55, and 79 percent of the study participants were men. All were surveyed annually about several health and social factors, including sleep disturbances. Just 4 percent had retired due to health reasons.

While the percentage of people who reported sleep disturbances crept up gradually as they aged — from 23 percent seven years before retirement to 25 percent the year before a person retired — it dropped sharply when a person did retire. One year after leaving the work force, 18 percent of the study participants reported sleep disturbances. But this percentage inched up again, reaching 21 percent seven years after retirement.

Men saw the greatest improvement in sleep, as did managers, people who worked the night-shift, and people with the most demanding jobs.

Overall, people were 26 percent less likely to report sleep disturbances after they retired, but the difference was particularly strong for people who had suffered from depression or mental fatigue during their working life; their risk of sleep problems dropped by 45 percent.

The only group of people who actually slept worse after they retired was those who had left the workforce for health reasons; they were about 1.5 times as likely to have sleep problems after retirement as before.

“The possibility that the health and well-being of individuals are significantly worse when in employment than following retirement presents a great challenge to improve the quality of work life in Western societies in which the cost of the aging population can only be met through an increase in average retirement age,” the researchers conclude.

SOURCE: Sleep, November 1, 2009.

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