How Retirement Can Ruin Your Sleep and Provoke Insomnia

Lifestyle and Health Changes May Undermine Sleep Quality

Retirement is supposed to be the golden time of life when work is set aside and leisure time is filled with enjoyable pastimes. For too many, however, health problems can significantly impair the quality of life in these latter years. In particular, retirement can profoundly undermine sleep and be associated with factors that lead to increasing difficulty with insomnia. Discover how retirement can ruin sleep and avoid the pitfalls that entrap too many retirees.

Woman awake in bed holding her ears with alarm clock in foreground
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Work Ends, A New Lifestyle Begins

Many people long for the end of working life. Retirement is celebrated as the opportunity that everyone works toward. In some cases, however, the changes associated with retirement can be problematic, especially negatively impacting sleep.

During the working years, most people adhere to a regular schedule. The alarm clock prompts a consistent wake time in order to arrive at work on time. Though some people work less traditional shifts, many keep a consistent schedule Monday through Friday. This consistent wake time can help to reinforce the circadian patterns of sleep, including consistency in feeling sleepy and reduce the chance of developing insomnia.

Once retirement arrives, the alarm clock may be permanently silenced. Instead, you may decide to wake naturally and spontaneously. This may introduce a variability to the sleep schedule. Rather than waking consistently at the same time, you might lounge in bed in the morning. Wakefulness helps to enhance sleep quality, and when it is delayed by sleeping in, the ability to fall asleep at night may be impacted.

Many older people notice that their sleep quality diminishes. It becomes harder to fall asleep. There are more frequent awakenings during the night. Early morning awakenings may come unbidden and lead to distress. Extra time spent in bed may contribute to insomnia. There can be other causes of diminished sleep quality as well.

Even among the healthy, changes in daytime activities may impact sleep at night. A more restricted lifestyle, with less physical or social activity, may undermine sleep quality. Increased frequency of naps may affect the ability to sleep at night. Limitations in exercise can further diminish sleep quality. Increased use of alcohol or medications may exacerbate insomnia.

Depression, common among older people for various reasons, can provoke early morning awakenings. Financial stress can lead to anxiety and this may also worsen insomnia. Failing health or the death of loved ones may provoke similar distress.

Sleep Suffers Due to Other Conditions

Unfortunately, other sleep conditions become more frequent with aging. Obstructive sleep apnea may provoke nocturnal awakenings. It is associated with snoring, daytime sleepiness, waking to urinate, and teeth grinding. When left untreated, it may worsen hypertension, diabetes, and increase the risks for heart attack, stroke, and dementia.

There are other sleep disorders that also increase late in life. Restless legs syndrome and leg cramps occur more frequently among the elderly, interfering with the ability to get to sleep. REM behavior disorder may lead to dream enactment behaviors. Advanced sleep-wake phase disorder occurs more in older populations. This may lead to falling asleep early at night and waking several hours too early.

There are other potential contributors as well. Chronic pain can impact sleep quality. Many other seemingly unrelated medical conditions from heart failure to Parkinson’s disease to stroke that occur more among the aged, can likewise impact sleep quality.

Some of the changes that occur in retirement can begin to affect the ability to sleep soundly. Moreover, these various sleep disorders and other medical conditions, as well as the use of certain medications, may begin to take the toll.

If you begin to struggle with sleep during retirement, try to fix your wake time and get 15 to 30 minutes of sunlight upon awakening. Try to be active during the daytime and limit napping, especially if you have insomnia at night. Go to bed when you feel sleepy, with a goal of 7 to 8 hours of total sleep time nightly. Avoid spending extra time in bed as this will only worsen the quality of sleep.

A Word From Verywell

If your problems persist, consider speaking with a board-certified sleep specialist for further evaluation and treatment options. In some cases, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) may be helpful to teach skills that can enhance sleep. Often a sleep study may be important to identify sleep apnea and other conditions that may be undermining sleep.

Retirement really can be the golden years of life but only if you consistently get a good night of sleep at night.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Kryger, MH et al. "Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine." ExpertConsult, 6th edition, 20176.

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.