Seniors say they sleep better than younger adults [self-report bias]

This is new today:


This seems pretty straightforward at first. Seniors, in a survey-based study, report better sleep than young adults.

But we hit the same problem here as we do in happiness research. How people define things varies both with age and with the cultural norms of your generation. It’s hard to get an apples-to-apples comparison out of a survey when the words on it mean different things to different people.

Here’s the question they asked:

“Over the last 2 weeks, how many days have you had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep or sleeping too much?” and “Over the last 2 weeks how many days have you felt tired or had little energy?”

Of course, how you define “trouble” or “tired” depends on how old you are, how likely you are to complain about such things, and what you see as normal for your age. So we find, a little later in the article:

This doesn’t prove that seniors are sleeping better, Grandner said. It’s just as likely that sleep problems bother them less. “In my mind, the most likely reason is that actual age-related changes in sleep don’t consistently produce the level of discomfort as they would in a younger person,”

Beyond this, there just may be generational differences.

“The generation of people in that age range [seniors] may me more likely to take a stoic attitude towards symptoms,” Grandner said.

So, it’s yet another case where the researcher knows the limits, but they are not conveyed in the headline. Still, a great example of the care you have to take when using a survey instrument across multiple ages, genders, cultures, whatever.

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