Sleep Differences In Aerobically Fit and Unfit Older Adults

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John Harsh

Advisor Department



This study concerned the relationship between sleep and aerobic fitness in older adults. Differences in the EEG sleep characteristics of aerobically fit and unfit older adults (50-60 years old) were examined. It was hypothesized that the fit group would display more slow wave sleep, longer total sleep, fewer awakenings, and shorter sleep onset times. Subjects were assigned to fit or unfit groups based on their activity levels and heart rate response during a standardized exercise regimen on a bicycle ergometer. Ten subjects who exercised regularly and had a high level of aerobic fitness were assigned to the fit group. Ten age-matched peers with no exercise regimen and with a low level of aerobic fitness were assigned to the unfit group. Each subject slept three nights in the Sleep Laboratory of the University of Southern Mississippi. Recordings of EEG, EMG, and EOG activity were obtained on the second and third nights. Groups differences were examined using t-test. The unfit group displayed significantly greater percentages of stage 2 sleep and sleep efficiency, while the fit group displayed more awakenings, movement arousals, and alpha episodes. The result of this study failed to support the hypothesis that overall aerobic fitness is reflected in older-adult sleep. Possible explanations include insufficient control over the exercise regimens of the subjects, increased individual differences in sleep EEG with age, and unknown physiological characteristics which may have influenced the outcome. It is uncertain whether fitness is reflected in one's EEG sleep. This area of study requires further research in order to more fully understand the nature of this relationship.