For a Good Night’s Sleep, Retire

New research says retirees sleep more soundly when they leave behind workplace stress


Many Americans lose sleep worrying about how they will pay for retirement expenses. But retirement may actually be a remedy for sleep disorders, according to a study published in the November issue of the journal SLEEP. Researchers found that the removal of work-related stress actually helped retirees sleep more soundly.

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The data, collected over 15 years, showed that sleep disturbances increased in the years leading up to retirement culminating in 24 percent of the workers studied reporting a sleep disturbance in the last year before retirement. But sleep disturbance rates fell to 18 percent in the first year following retirement. In the seven years following retirement sleep problems again increased to 20 percent, but remained significantly lower than at any time prior to retirement.

Improvements in sleep following retirement were most pronounced among men, nightshift workers, employees with management-level or demanding positions, and participants with depression or mental fatigue. The only group of people whose sleep did not improve at least somewhat in retirement was workers who retired early due to a long-standing illness or disability, whose sleep problems became more prevalent in retirement.

[Find out why Delaying Retirement Improves Your Health.]

But don’t cash out your 401(k) and hit the pillow just yet. The workers in the study who slept more soundly in retirement weren’t Americans. They were French. The researchers followed 11,581 male and 3,133 female employees of the French national gas and electricity company who retired between 1990 and 2006. The workers filled out an annual questionnaire for 7 years before and after their retirement. All employees received a pension in retirement equal to 80 percent of their former salary.

“We believe these findings are largely applicable in situations where financial incentives not to retire are relatively weak,” says Jussi Vahtera, a professor at the University of Turku in Finland and lead author of the study. “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.”