9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN16 Sociology of Health and Illness

2009-09-05 13:30:00 2009-09-05 15:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 13:30 - 15:00 Embodiment, Emotions and Health I Building I, 1E2

Failing bodies, sleep and health

Sleep is increasingly being shown to be important for health and well-being. However, ill-health and disability also lead to sleep disruption and poor sleep quality. Sociologists of health have hitherto paid little attention to the interconnections between sleep, health and well-being. With increasing age, bodies begin to fail leading to a greater potential for sleep disruption.

This paper draws on qualitative interviews with 62 men and women aged 65-95 in the UK who had poor sleep quality, collected as part of the SomnIA project on Sleep and Ageing1. The interviews focused on self-perceptions of what influenced interviewees? quality of sleep, and their attitudes towards sleep disruption.

With increasing age, a key factor influencing sleep quality was chronic ill-health, disability and associated pain, for example from arthritis. In addition, virtually all participants recounted how their sleep was disrupted through getting up to go to the toilet, often several times a night. These aspects of sleep disturbance can be characterised as related to older individuals? failing bodies. Daytime sleep was also associated with failing bodies. Many older people could not prevent their ageing bodies from falling asleep during the day, for example, drifting off in front of the television or while reading a newspaper, symbolising a lack of control over their body and for some representing a marker of ?deep? old age.

The paper examines gender differences in participants? discourses about how their failing bodies interrupt and restructure their sleep. We explore what underlies why some older people normalised these disruptions, accommodating them within their everyday lives, while others resisted and resented the ways in which their failing bodies adversely impacted on their sleep quality, well-being and daytime activities.

1. The SomnIA Collaborative Research Project is funded by the Cross-Council New Dynamics of Ageing initiative, a multidisciplinary research programme supported by AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC and MRC (RES-339-25-0009)