Have you ever wondered how aging affects sleep? Maybe you’re curious about whether our sleep quality reduces as we age or if a lack of sleep could speed up the aging process. Whatever your dilemma might be, our guide is here to elucidate everything you need to know about the relationship between aging and sleep.
After we explore all these questions, we’ll share some of our best tips on how to improve your sleeping patterns and your overall sleep quality. Regardless of whether you’re a senior or you’re in your early twenties, our advice applies to everyone. At the end of our article, you will also find an FAQ section, so without further ado, let’s get into it.
How Much Sleep Do People Across Different Age Groups Get?
All of us are aware that children have different sleeping requirements than adults. But how much difference is there between the number of hours of sleep adults and elderly people should optimally get?
Newborns require the most amount of sleep, ranging between 16 and 18 hours a day, whereas infants need anywhere from 12 to 16 hours. As children age, they need less amount of sleep – toddlers usually sleep from 11 to 14 hours, whereas school-aged children should sleep anywhere from 8 to 11 hours. The amount of sleep teenagers should get seems to vary, but it’s usually between 8 and 10 hours.
When it comes to adults, we should ideally get anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep, but due to our busy schedules and work obligations, many get, on average, around 6 hours of sleep. Seniors usually sleep less than 8 hours a day, usually due to some sleep-related issues they experience, which we’ll discuss later.
Do Older People Need Less Sleep?
You might’ve heard that elderly people need less sleep, however, there’s little truth to this claim. Older adults and elderly sleepers require just as much sleep as adults (around 8 hours a day), but what makes us think that they can get away with sleeping for less hours is the fact that people find it harder to stay asleep as they age. To face the challenges that aging poses on elderly sleepers, it’s recommended that they get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, preferably 8.
How Does Aging Affect Sleep?
Now, it’s time to get to the gist of our article and go over all the ways in which aging affects sleep.
The extent to which aging affects an individual depends on many factors. For instance, someone who has established healthy sleeping patterns during their adulthood has fewer chances of suffering from any sleep disruptions after the age of 60. Similarly, adults whose health remains in good shape are better prepared to face some of the challenges of sleeping as an elderly person.
There are a couple common ways in which aging can affect sleep.
Elderly people are more prone to napping. You might’ve noticed this inclination in your parent or grandparent – the more we age, the more prone we are to napping. There are various reasons why this occurs, but sometimes elders take this to the extreme and extend the naps to last a couple of hours. This is bad news for their sleeping schedules – daytime napping that extends over an hour can wreak havoc on their sleeping patterns and cause them to stay up at night, unable to fall asleep, or even wake up at different points in the night.
Naps can be a great tool to make up for the lack of sleep from the previous night, but we should be careful when integrating them into our days. To avoid naps from having a destructive effect on their sleeping schedules, older people are recommended to keep their naps in the 30 minutes to an hour range.
Waking Up Earlier and Going to Bed Earlier
Another sleep-related change that’s common among elders but that’s not necessarily disruptive to their sleeping patterns is wanting to wake up earlier. There are several reasons why this occurs, most of which are related to lifestyle patterns. It’s also related to our circadian rhythms, which undergo a natural change as we age. Consequently, elders are more likely to go to bed earlier in the evenings.
Disruptions During the Night
Aging causes many different disruptions in our sleeping patterns. One of the most common sleep-related problems elders experience is waking up in the middle of the night. You might’ve heard older people who are closer to you complain about this change, but why does it occur in the first place? It turns out, as we age, we spend less time in the deep, restorative sleeping stage of sleep and spend more time in the lighter sleeping stages.
There are four main sleeping stages: three non-REM stages and one REM stage. The REM stage is the deep stage of sleep, one that’s crucial for many different processes in our body, such as memory processing and immunity building. Elders naturally spend less time in the REM stage of sleep, when it’s harder for us to wake up, making them more prone to waking up and having sleep disruptions. This kind of sleep is not as replenishing and energizing as spending a longer amount of time in the REM stage, so elders prone to waking up during the night feel more tired the next day.
Change in Melatonin Levels and Production
A common cause of sleep-related problems in adults is the change in melatonin levels. Melatonin is a sleeping hormone crucial for healthy sleep, and our body naturally produces less melatonin as we age. This causes difficulties when trying to fall asleep at night and it impacts the overall quality of sleep we get.
On average, elders take more medication than younger adults do. Therefore, taking certain types of medication is another common culprit of sleep problems in elders. If you suspect that your medication might be the cause of your sleep problems, we suggest seeing a doctor.
Women in menopause also report changes in their sleeping patterns. While this varies from woman to woman, it can be concluded that the hormonal change that occurs during menopause doesn’t favour a healthy sleeping schedule. Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause and they disturb sleep to a great extent. The same applies to night sweats – women report that they find night sweats to be greatly interruptive to their sleeping patterns.
Lower Activity Levels
As we age, we’re less likely to work out and remain active during the day, whether it’s due to some health-related issue or lifestyle changes, like retirement. This is another common cause of sleep problems for elders, since we know that exercise and movement play a huge role in having a healthy sleeping schedule. Luckily, unlike some of the causes mentioned in this section, this can be easily fixed by introducing more gentle exercise during the day, such as walking.
Elders are also more prone to certain medical conditions that could impact their sleeping schedules, such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Last but not least, changes in the circadian rhythm are closely connected to poor sleep in elders. The body’s internal clock changes as we age, resulting in circadian rhythm changes. The circadian rhythm affects many major processes in our body in addition to sleep, so it’s crucial for our overall health that it stays in order.
Another major factor that leads to a disruption in the circadian rhythm is lack of daylight and sun exposure. This affects the production of some crucial hormones in our body, such as melatonin, so it’s easy to see why the circadian rhythms would be confused.
Sleep-Related Issues in Elderly People
Here are some of the most common sleep-related problems that elders experience that are either a result of a poor sleeping schedule or the cause for the lower quality sleep.
One of the most common sleep-related issues that can be found in elders is insomnia. Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes an inability to fall asleep and remain asleep for a longer period of time. Luckily, there is some medication that can help alleviate the symptoms of insomnia.
Nocturia, or nighttime urination, is another common issue found in elders. It’s not hard to see why waking up constantly in the middle of the night can result in disrupted sleeping patterns – the sleep cycles get interrupted, causing elders to spend less time in REM sleep.
Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that causes sleepers to have pauses in their breathing during sleep. Just like nocturia, it causes disruptions during the night and changes in the oxygen levels of elders, resulting in poor sleep quality.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Although not as common as some of the other disorders on our list, restless leg syndrome (RLS) affects around 10% of elders. The main symptom of this disorder is an involuntary movement of the limbs during sleep. While it might sound innocuous at first glance, RLS can cause sleep disruptions similar to insomnia and nocturia, so it’s best to consult a professional for medication.
How Does Sleep Affect Aging
We saw all the ways in which aging affects our sleeping schedule and quality, so it’s time to examine whether the reverse is true – does a lack of sleep affect aging in any way?
If you’ve ever been sleep deprived, chances are you’ve noticed some rapid changes in your appearance – your skin might appear duller, you might have under-eye bags and circles, and the fine lines on your face might be more pronounced. Why does this occur?
It turns out, a lack of sleep and chronic sleep deprivation age you quicker. Not getting an adequate amount of sleep has been linked to increased signs of intrinsic aging, while those who have a healthy sleeping schedule are reported to have healthier skin. Sleep deprivation speeds up skin aging and leads to premature signs of aging, such as the appearance of fine lines.
Needless to say, many things influence the way in which we show signs of aging, such as our genetics, exposure to the sun, and the products we use on our skin, but one thing is certain – sleep is our friend when it comes to having a youthful appearance. And it’s not just the aesthetics that count – our skin health is crucial for many different reasons, including providing a barrier from some outside factors, such as toxins and pollutants.
If you want healthier skin and a graceful aging process, one of the simplest solutions you could include in your life is sleeping more.
Sleeping Tips for Better Sleep
Now that we know that aging negatively impacts our sleep, and a lack of sleep can contribute to accelerated aging, it’s time to share some of our best tips that can help improve your sleeping patterns and your overall sleep quality.
Turn Off all Light Sources in Your Bedroom Before Sleep
Our first tip is to turn off all sources of light in your bedroom before you fall asleep. Sleeping in complete darkness is the best way to optimise your melatonin production and improve your sleep quality. When we expose our eyes to light during the night, our brain gets mixed signals and starts to think it’s daytime, so it increases our overall energy and makes it less likely for us to fall asleep. For that reason, it’s important to turn off all light sources, no matter how small you think they might be. If you’re used to sleeping with a lamp on, it might be harder for you to adjust to sleeping in darkness at the beginning, but the results are definitely worth it.
Same applies to using electronic devices before bed – the blue light that emits from them has been associated with poorer sleep and lower melatonin production. Many people are in the habit of watching their favourite TV shows before going to bed, but this isn’t a good idea. Instead, if you have to have a background noise to fall asleep, it’s much better to turn on a podcast that will play in the background while the screen is turned off.
Maintain a Predictable Sleeping Schedule
We’re creatures of habit, and our bodies love when we keep a regular sleeping schedule. This includes waking up and going to bed at the same time every night. Needless to say, this won’t be achievable for everyone – children, work, and certain sleep disorders might get in the way, but it’s crucial that we do our best to give our bodies some predictability when it comes to sleeping.
Try Not to Work in your Bedroom
Using your bedroom only for sleeping and intercourse with your partner allows your brain to associate it with rest and relaxation. If possible, try to work in other rooms of the house and select a work space that will only be designed for work. That will make it significantly easier for you to get in the work mode during the day, and rest when the time is right.
Don’t Exercise in the Later Part of the Day
Just like napping too close to bedtime, exercising too late in the day can keep us up at night. Exercising energises us, and if we don’t allow our body to spend that energy elsewhere, it will have us tossing and turning in our beds, unable to fall asleep. If your schedule allows for it, plan your exercises in the mornings.
Have a Bedtime Routine
Many people have found that having a bedtime routine full of relaxing activities, like yoga or journaling, helps them fall asleep faster. If we repeat those activities at a certain time of the day, our brain starts associating them with sleep and it makes it much easier for us to relax. If you still haven’t given bedtime routines a go, this is your sign to start.
Why Does Sleep Get Worse as We Age?
There are many reasons why aging gets worse as we age. For starters, circadian rhythms are thrown off course and our melatonin production is lowered, which causes our internal clocks to be confused. This is why elders are also more prone to getting up in the middle of the night. Taking medication is also more common among elders, and some medication can negatively impact our sleep. Additionally, elders are more prone to suffering from certain sleep disorders, which can lower our sleep quality.
Does Aging Cause Insomnia?
Yes, aging significantly increases our chances of suffering from insomnia, especially after the age of 60.
Do Most Seniors Have Trouble Sleeping?
Unfortunately, a large percentage of seniors report having trouble sleeping. Regardless of what factor is to blame, a lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on our overall health, so it’s important to find a solution before any negative effects occur.
We hope you found our article on how aging affects sleep informative!
It’s a common myth that elders don’t need as much sleep – they need at least seven hours of sleep per day. However, some factors make it impossible for some elders to get sufficient sleep. There are many ways in which aging affects sleep. For instance, elders are more prone to napping, which sometimes can be disruptive to our overall sleeping patterns. They’re also more likely to take medication, and some types of medication can lead to problems with sleeping. In addition, they’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and suffer from some sleep disorders. Some common disorders found among elders include RLS (restless leg syndrome), insomnia, and nocturia.
Just like aging affects sleep, a lack of sleep can accelerate aging and cause us to show signs of aging prematurely. They don’t call it beauty sleep for nothing, so make sure you get at least 8 hours of sleep a night.
Oyetakin-White P, Suggs A, Koo B, Matsui MS, Yarosh D, Cooper KD, Baron ED. Does poor sleep quality affect skin ageing? Clin Exp Dermatol. 2015 Jan;40(1):17-22. doi: 10.1111/ced.12455. Epub 2014 Sep 30. PMID: 25266053.