Extra social and cognitive exercise means fewer signs of insomnia in older adults

Older adults with higher levels of engagement in social and cognitive activities may have fewer symptoms of insomnia, according to a cross-sectional secondary data analysis published in BMC Geriatrics, based on data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). The HRS, a population-based longitudinal study (grant number NIA U01AG009740), has been collecting data from Americans over the age of 50 who are not institutionalized since 1992.

The researchers used 2016 data from 3,321 participants with a mean age of 75.62 years (range, 65-98). Participants had self-reported insomnia symptoms and their frequency on a 3-point scale and the frequency of their engagement in 21 different activities (6 social, 5 cognitive, 3 physical) on a 7-point scale, which was then reduced to a 3 -Point scale. Higher points mean higher frequency. The mean activity engagement scores for the elements social, cognitive, and physical activity were 1.39 (range 1-3), 1.63 (range 1-3), and 1.95 (range 1-3), respectively. The mean value for insomnia symptoms was 6.72 (range 4-12).

Male, white, and married respondents reported fewer symptoms of insomnia. Participants who had no more than one high school education level, those with the highest self-reported loneliness, and those who had at least 1 chronic illness and at least 1 activities with difficulty of daily living (ADL) and sleep disorder showed more symptoms of insomnia.

The independent t-test used to analyze differences in insomnia symptoms showed that respondents with higher levels of social activity (t = 7.43), cognitive activity (t = 5.57), and physical activity (t = 7.20) had fewer insomnia symptoms (all P <0.001)).

After adjusting for other types of activity and all covariates, the researchers found that respondents with higher engagement in social activities were more likely to report fewer symptoms of insomnia (β = -0.04, P = 0.040), as were those with higher cognitive activity ( β) = -0.06, P = 0.007). Older respondents (β = -0.05, P = 0.012) and male respondents (β = -0.10, P <0.001) reported fewer symptoms of insomnia more often. Chronic illness (β = 0.05), ADL difficulties (β = 0.11), and greater loneliness (β = 0.20) were associated with more symptoms of insomnia (all P <0.001).

Respondents with a higher level of engagement in social activities were less likely to have more trouble falling asleep (odds ratio (OR) = 0.71, 95% CI, 0.56-0.91). Those with higher levels of commitment to cognitive activity were less likely to have more trouble falling asleep (OR = 0.77, 95% CI, 0.62-0.96) and more trouble waking up too early (OR = 0.68 , 95% CI, 0.55-0.85).

Physical activity was not significantly associated with symptoms of total insomnia, but those with higher levels of physical activity were less likely to report more unrecoverable sleep (OR = 0.69, 95% CI, 0.57-0.82).

One of the limitations of the study is the fact that causal relationships between types of activity and symptoms of insomnia cannot be investigated due to the cross-section of the study.


Kim DE, Roberts TJ, Moon C. Relationships between types of activity engagement and insomnia symptoms in older adults. BMC Geriatr. 2021; 21 (1): 87. doi: 10.1186 / s12877-021-02042-y

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor

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