Aging and Sleep

Posted: November 20, 2019

Aging and Sleep

Everybody needs sleep but unfortunately most of us do not get enough. Everyone is different and there is no “right” amount of sleep that every person should get every night. However, the National Sleep Foundation has recommendations for the amount of sleep required based on age.

What changes regarding sleep as we age? Older adults were found to have more consistent sleep patterns for both weeknights and weekends. As compared to younger adults, persons 55-84 years of age sleep on average 7.0 hours on weeknights and 7.1 hours on weekends, whereas those 18-54 years of age have a mean sleep time of 6.7 hours on weeknights and 7.6 hours on weekends. Older adults do not need less sleep than a middle-aged person. Adults actually require about the same amount of sleep from their twenties into older age, although the number of hours per night varies from person to person.

Sadly, a lot of older adults get much less sleep than needed and this occurs for a variety of reasons.

Insomnia. Insomnia is the most common sleep problem in adults age 60 and older. People with this condition have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Insomnia can last for days, months, and even years.

Having trouble sleeping can mean you:

  • Take a long time to fall asleep
  • Wake up many times in the night
  • Wake up early and are unable to get back to sleep
  • Wake up tired
  • Feel very sleepy during the day

Often, being unable to sleep becomes a habit. Some people worry about not sleeping even before they get into bed. This may make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Illnesses and conditions. You may have a medical condition that is affecting your rest. Ailments like arthritis, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome can all make sleep a challenge. Treatment to help your condition may help you get some shut eye.

Medications. Some can keep you awake at night. Make sure your doctor knows about all the medications you take. Your doctor may suggest adjusting when and how much you take. They may even be able to change your medication to something that will not affect your slumber.

Change. The older you get, the more likely you are to have some major transitions in your life. Things like illness, financial problems, or the death of a loved one cause stress, and that can make it hard to sleep. Talk to your family or meet with a counselor to find ways to manage your stress.

Retirement. You might have a lot more downtime and be less active during the day. That can throw off your sleep-wake schedule. Try to keep your body and mind moving: You could volunteer, hit the gym, learn a new skill, spend time with friends and family … just stay active.

Aging and Sleep Recommendations…

Some recommendations for a more restful nights sleep include:

  • Stick to a regular bedtime. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Your body will get used to the routine.
  • Take a warm bath. When you get out of the tub, the drop in body temperature may help you feel tired. It can also help you relax and slow down, so you are more ready to go to bed.
  • Take time to calm down before you turn out the lights. Turn off your electronic devices and TV an hour before bed. You can read a book, listen to music — whatever helps you unwind.
  • Make the bedroom a sleep zone. If you are still awake 20 minutes after you hit the sack, get up. Get back in bed only when you feel tired enough. Train yourself to think of the bed as a place for sleeping only.
  • Avoid afternoon naps. If you sleep during the day, you are more likely to stay awake at night.
  • Do not drink alcohol close to bedtime. Even small amounts can make it harder to stay asleep. It can make you wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of the booze have worn off.
  • Drink less fluids at night. Trips to the bathroom break up your sleep.
  • Wear yourself out. Exercise at regular times each day, but not within 3 hours of your bedtime.
  • Get some sun. Make an effort to get outside in the sunlight each day. It helps let your body know when it is time to be awake, and when it is not.