University of Surrey lecturer on Co-sleeping


- Speaker Details:

Name:Dr Rob Meadows

Job title:Lecturer in Sociology

Organisation:University of Surrey

- Presentation Details:

Event:Sleep after 60: Changes and challenges in later life


Date of delivery:08/09/2009

- Presentation Brief:

1. Details of your presentation

The event will be a series of overlapping presentations based on video clips of older people talking about their experience of poor sleep, and the impact this has on their lives. The presenters are all involved in the SomnIA (Sleep in Ageing) project based at the University of Surrey. As well as the video-based presentations and discussions, members of the audience will be invited to share some of their own experiences of poor sleep, and write down questions which they would like the panel of presenters to address during the last part of the event.

2. What is new and interesting about your work?

Sleep is central to health and well-being, but as people get older, the quality of their sleep can deteriorate. Many older people are prescribed medications to help them sleep, but research has shown that sleeping medication may impact on the lives of older people, such as increasing the risk of falls.

Sleep after 60: Changes and Challenges in Later Life delves deeper into some of the issues around sleep and old age. What are the implications of poor sleep for older people living in their own homes? How can older people better manage their sleep, without having to take sleeping medications?

Researchers at the University of Surrey have been trying to answer some of these questions, aiming to improve the quality of life for older people. The SomnIA (Sleep in Ageing) project (, based at the University of Surrey is a four year investigation into the ways that the quality of older people's sleep affects the quality of their lives. The event will include presentations and discussions from Jo Moran-Ellis, the Head of the Sociology Department at the University of Surrey, Professor Sara Arber, the lead investigator on the SomnIA project, Dr Neil Stanley, Manager of the Clinical Research and Trials Unit at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and Dr Rob Meadows and Sue Venn from the University of Surrey.

These leading sleep researchers will present a range of findings relating to poor sleep among older people living in their own homes. Older people aged between 65 and 95 years old, who had poor sleep, were interviewed, and video clips of these interviews will be shown throughout the event. Although most people think of sleep as a physical process, there were many social factors that influenced how people slept, and how they managed their poor sleep.

3. What is the key finding of the work/research described in your presentation?

People who were worried and concerned about their family, the future and financial security often experienced difficulties sleeping, as did people who cared for partners, suffered from ill health, or had had experienced disrupted sleeping patterns in earlier life. Although retirement brought opportunities for daytime sleep, napping was often met with mixed feelings of guilt for wasting time, alongside pleasure at being able to have more energy to do things during the day or evening. Increased frequency of going to the toilet in the night often caused disturbed sleep for both men and women.

All of the speakers at the event will present video clips to really show the audience what it is like to experience poor sleep. For example, Professor Sara Arber will show footage of older people talking about their disturbed sleep and what they do when they have trouble sleeping, such as getting up to make tea, reading the newspaper or just resting in bed until they fall asleep again, while Dr Rob Meadows will present footage of couples discussing what it is like to share a bed with a partner, and the impact of snoring on sleep!

Dr Neil Stanley will discuss people talking about their experience of prescribed and herbal sleep medications, while Sue Venn will compare footage of people who enjoyed daytime napping with those who felt guilty about wasting time during the day.

Members of the audience will be invited to share some of their own experiences of poor sleep, and write down questions which they would like the panel of presenters to address during the last part of the event.

Talking to older people about their poor sleep highlighted how many older people believe they need less sleep as they age. There is presently a debate within the sleep literature about whether older people actually do need less sleep, or sleep less because of problems with their sleep, such as waking up in the night. But regardless of how much sleep the older people in this study believed they needed, of greater importance to them was whether they had sufficient energy during the day to achieve all the things they wanted to do.

4. What is the relevance of your work to a general audience?

Sleeping and ageing are two things that all people do! But, as the number of older people in the population increases, understanding how poor sleep impacts on quality of life is vital. This event offers an opportunity for a general audience to hear other peoples' experiences of poor sleep and how they manage their poor sleep.

5. What is the next step for your work/research?

Members of the SomnIA research project are also exploring other ways to improve poor sleep in later life, such as self-help practices for older people in the community with sleeping problems, recommendations about light exposure and activities for older people, suggestions for changing routines in care homes to facilitate improved sleep and recommendations for increasing light levels in care homes.

6. Others working in this specific area

The SomnIA project is one of several teams of researchers in the field of sleep in old age, but some other relevant researchers include Professor Donald Bliwise of Emory University, Atlanta, Eus Van Someren, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, and Professor Vitiello, University of Washington.

7. Details of a few key/relevant publications

All the video clips presented at this event, along with many others, will be published on the internet later in the autumn as part of a module on poor sleep on the award winning Healthtalkonline website ( This website contains modules of people talking about their own experiences of illness and disease, such as managing chronic pain, cancer and bereavement, and is accessed by members of the public and health professionals. The website module, from which our video clips are taken, will be called 'Sleep Problems in Later Life' and will not only contain video extracts from the interviews we conducted, but also written transcripts, and links to resources giving information on how to cope with some of the issues raised by the interviewees.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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