Our bodies, minds and overall health and wellbeing change significantly as we age, and this has a direct effect on our sleep habits. Let’s take a closer look at how our sleep pattern changes over the course of our life.
How does your sleep pattern change?
How much sleep we need on average changes dramatically as we enter new stages of life. For new-borns, the National Foundation of Sleep recommends 14 to 17 hours of sleep, but by the time children reach between the ages of 6 and 13, this number drops to 9 to 11 hours. For older teenagers, 8 to 10 hours of sleep are recommended, and people aged 18 to 64 need 7 to 9 hours. By the time we reach over the age of 65, we need 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
However, it is important to be aware that these broad guidelines can vary from person to person. No two people sleep in exactly the same way at a given age, and so it is more important for an individual to listen to their body’s own requirements than try to adhere to the prescribed sleep allocation for their age group.
Does our sleep quality decline as we age?
So is it true that as we age, our sleep quality declines? Although not an absolute given, changing lifestyle factors and rising health issues all have an effect on our sleep and tend to make it worse. As we enter middle-adulthood, we’re often pushing ourselves between full-time work, family life and socialising. At this stage, primary sleep concerns are a result of the individual’s own choices: people are choosing to go to bed later, and choosing to wake up early for work or children.
As we age further, it also takes longer for us to fall asleep. We spend less time in deep sleep, especially men over 60, and sleep becomes more fragmented too. By the time a person reaches 60, they will typically wake up 20 to 30 times a night. Older adults are also more likely to suffer from sleep-related health issues like sleep apnoea.
Routine and exercise can help older adults improve their sleep habits
The end result of older adults’ diminished sleep quality is feeling more tired and less energetic during the day. To combat this it can be necessary to take more naps in order to avoid feeling drowsy through the course of the day.
However, experts suggest that regular routine is the key to improving sleep habits in later life. Going to bed and waking at a similar time every day of the week — including weekends — is the best way to encourage the body to sleep through. Daily exercise, even if it’s just walking or stretching, can make a difference to the amount of deep sleep older adults experience overnight too.
Despite these factors, it’s generally acknowledged that older adults cannot experience the same quality of sleep they did when they were young. The silver lining, however, is that reaching past this point can help you recover some of that sleep quality, as adults aged over 85 are much less likely to suffer from conditions like insomnia.
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