Aging and Sleep: How Sleep Changes as We Get Older
written by/ May 14, 2022
The aging process entails many changes that affect both our body and mind. And sleep is no exception. As people get older, they tend to have more sleep problems than when they were younger.
So what are the most common sleep problems that come with age? Why do they occur? And what kind of effects do they have on our health?
Keep on reading to find out the answers to these and more questions regarding aging and sleep.
The Benefits of a Good Night’s Rest
A night of restful sleep is vital for our physical and mental health. Although we usually tend to take it for granted, both our quantity and quality of sleep significantly impact our overall quality of life.
For instance, sufficient sleep:
- keeps us healthier
- boosts our immune system
- improves our heart health
- helps prevent cancer.
But that’s not all. It also enhances our memory and learning capacities. Unfortunately, the way our sleep changes with age can result in several negative effects.
It’s a well-known fact that a lack of sleep can have numerous adverse effects on our well-being. People with sleep problems are at a higher risk of chronic illness. Some studies found that sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
In addition, when you don’t get enough sleep, you’re less productive and have difficulty concentrating. Feeling sleepy during the day can also make you anxious and nervous.
Even if you sleep the recommended 7–9 hours a night, you may wake up feeling unrested. This is because you need to get quality sleep to feel refreshed and energized in the morning.
Put simply, when we doze off, we go through several different stages of sleep. Unless we spend enough time in the “deep sleep” stage, our body and mind don’t have an opportunity to fully recover.
How Much Sleep Do You Need by Age?
Most people assume that seniors need less sleep than younger adults. However, that’s not true. Even though old people sleep less, throughout our adulthood, we need a similar amount of sleep.
Nevertheless, older people tend to sleep less than the recommended 7–9 hours. Insomnia statistics support this claim, showing that 48% of the elderly experience symptoms of this disorder.
Below you can see the current recommendations provided by the National Sleep Foundation regarding adequate sleep duration based on one’s age.
|Newborns (0–3 months)||14–17 hours|
|Infants (4–11 months)||12–15 hours|
|Toddlers (1–2 years)||11–14 hours|
|Preschoolers (3–5 years)||10–13 hours|
|School-age children (6–13 years)||9–11 hours|
|Teenagers (14–17 years)||8–10 hours|
|Young adults (18–25 years)||7–9 hours|
|Adults (26–65 years)||7–9 hours|
|Older adults (65+)||7–8 hours|
As you can see, newborns need more sleep than the rest of us, however, this need gradually decreases as they grow older. After their teenage years, most people need between 7 and 9 hours to function as well as possible.
Changes in Sleep Patterns With Age
As we mentioned earlier, older people tend to have trouble falling asleep and typically wake up earlier in the morning. As a result, the time they spend asleep decreases to a certain extent.
The majority of seniors are light sleepers who frequently wake up during the night. One of the reasons they easily wake up is that they spend less time in the “deep sleep” stage. Since their nighttime rest is often disrupted, they don’t always get all the benefits of a good night’s sleep.
Along with changes in their sleep patterns, the elderly have difficulties with sleep disorders and sleep-related breathing disorders as well. The most common among them are insomnia and sleep apnea.
The Elderly and Sleep Deprivation
Not only do they tend to sleep less, but older people’s slumber isn’t as restorative as it should be, which is another problem of aging and sleep.
Therefore, even seniors who get enough hours of sleep at night might feel sleepy during the day. That’s why we’ll briefly talk about the consequences of lack of sleep among this population, which generally don’t differ much from the typical effects of sleep deprivation.
They can include the following:
- weight gain
- reduced productivity
- inability to concentrate
- anxiety and irritability
- memory problems
- excessive sleep during the day
- increased risk of depression
- impaired immune system, which can lead to frequent infections
- increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers.
Sleep and Aging Skin
When they don’t get enough good sleep, many people experience an increase in:
- uneven pigmentation
- decreased skin elasticity.
Simply put, people appear to be older than they really are because their lack of sleep impairs the skin’s capacity to repair and regenerate itself, thereby also impacting its youthfulness.
These are just some of the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on one’s health. Unsurprisingly, much more severe issues can also occur in some cases.
Causes of Sleep Problems
There are several reasons you might experience sleep problems as you get older. Some are typical of one’s age and health, while others can result from lifestyle changes.
- Poor sleep hygiene – If you don’t have healthy sleeping habits, you may end up disrupting your body’s internal clock, also known as the circadian rhythm.
- Sleep disorders – Another reason many people, especially old people, sleep less is that they often suffer from a kind of sleep disorder which prevents them from getting enough rest. Certain disorders, such as sleep apnea and insomnia, are more prevalent among older individuals. In addition to affecting sleep, these disorders might lead to severe medical conditions in the elderly.
- Chronic illnesses – It’s a well-known fact that our health deteriorates with age. Several medical conditions (that especially affect older people), such as heart problems, heartburn, and arthritis, can harm sleep quality.
- Medication – Certain medicines can have a highly negative effect on your sleep quality. They may keep you awake when you want to sleep or cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
- Stressful situations – Certain life events usually associated with old age can cause a lot of stress and sleepless nights. For example, financial problems, the passing of a loved one, or moving to a nursing home can all lead to a sudden change in sleep patterns.
- Retirement – Retirement is a huge change in your lifestyle since, all of a sudden, you don’t have as many responsibilities during the day as you used to have. As a result, you might not feel as tired at bedtime, so falling asleep may become a bigger challenge. Also, without a strict schedule to follow, you may start going to bed at different times, which will severely interfere with your sleep hygiene.
Signs of Sleep Deprivation
If you sleep less than when you were younger but still wake up well-rested in the morning, it’s possible you now need less sleep to function normally. If you want to know whether you’re sleep-deprived, pay attention to the following signs:
- You can’t wake up without an alarm.
- You wake up feeling tired.
- You can’t get through the day without napping.
- You feel sleepy during the day.
- You fall asleep within minutes of going to bed.
Tips for Getting More ZZZs
As we’ve mentioned, the relationship between sleep and aging often involves the development of sleep problems due to an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder. In that case, you should consult your doctor or a sleep expert.
On the other hand, if you have trouble sleeping for no particular reason, you might improve your sleep quality by making a few lifestyle changes.
Here are a few simple tips that can help adults improve their slumber:
- Have a light dinner.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Avoid napping, particularly in the late afternoon.
- Spend more time outdoors to increase your exposure to natural light.
- Avoid consuming caffeinated beverages and alcohol, especially close to bedtime.
- Keep your sleep environment pleasantly cool, dark, and quiet.
- Avoid using electronic devices before bedtime.
- Develop a relaxing bedtime routine, like listening to soothing music.
Inevitably, your sleeping habits will change as you get older. But don’t discourage yourself. Read up on the subject, keep yourself informed and you’ll be able to help yourself get the rest you need.
Considering that a good night’s rest is vital for your health and normal daily functions, you absolutely shouldn’t neglect this segment of your life.
How much sleep do I need, going by my age?
Newborns need the most sleep, up to 17 hours a day. Then, the sleep architecture changes with age, and as we get older, the amount of sleep we need gradually decreases until adulthood when we need 7–9 hours a night.
The elderly sometimes need even less sleep, though only a little. You can see more specifics on the recommended sleep duration by age in the table above.
Do we sleep less as we age?
Yes, we need less sleep as we get older. However, once we reach adulthood, our need for sleep doesn’t change much from then on.
Whether we’re 20 or 50 years old, we need to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. Even people aged 65 or older need a similar amount of sleep (7–8 hours a night).
How can seniors sleep better?
In order to sleep better, seniors who have sleep issues first need to find out what the cause of their problem is. If they have a medical condition affecting their ability to sleep or a sleep disorder, they need to consult with their physician.
On the other hand, if there’s no particular underlying cause for their sleep problems, they might try to improve their sleep hygiene by following some of our tips given above.
How much sleep do seniors need?
To feel refreshed and alert, most healthy individuals aged 65 and over require 7–8 hours of sleep per night. However, as you get older, your sleep patterns change by age. Insomnia or sleeping problems may result from these changes.
Why do old people sleep less?
Because your body generates less growth hormone as you get older, you’ll likely get less deep sleep. The body creates less melatonin when this happens, so your sleep will probably be interrupted and you’ll wake up more frequently during the night. That’s why, as we get older, many of us consider ourselves “light sleepers.”
Do you age faster if you sleep less?
Your body is aging beneath the surface as well, and lack of sleep can hasten the process.
UCLA researchers discovered that a single night of poor sleep can accelerate the aging of an older adult’s cells. This may not appear to be a major issue, but it can trigger plenty of additional illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and cancer.
Why do some old people sleep so much?
Another effect of the relationship between aging and sleep is excessive daytime sleeping, which is quite common among the elderly. Its most prevalent cause is sleep deprivation.
Their environment might be uncomfortably warm/cold or they consume too much caffeine during the day. Also, they may be waking up often because of aching joints, hypersensitivity to sound or, in men’s case, frequent urination brought on by prostate gland enlargement.
In addition, if chronic health problems or age-related changes prevent someone from doing the things they enjoy, they may take naps more frequently to pass the time. Naturally, this will negatively impact their night slumber.