Getting Older & Wiser about Sleep
How does our sleep change as we age?
Do you get enough sleep? As the world grows smaller and faster with technology, sleep is the first thing we sacrifice. Once we retire, we might assume we’ll have more time for sleep, but the fact is that elderly don’t sleep more – we actually sleep less as we age. The belief that the older we get the less sleep we need only holds true until you’re a teenager. After that, the reasons for lack of sleep are due to lifestyle, health problems and simply acclimating to functioning without enough sleep.
Let’s get the science of it all understood first. As we age, a chain reaction occurs and our bodies produce lower levels of growth hormone, which in turn can decrease our ability to achieve slow wave or deep sleep, the last stage before REM sleep. Not being able to consistently reach a deep REM sleep also lowers the amount of melatonin produced in our bodies, causing us to experience fragmented sleep, where we wake up throughout the night.
Yet another reason we can loathe whoever invented getting older. Can you remember the last age you were able to fall asleep with ease – and stay asleep all night long? I know I want to travel in time back to kindergarten and tell myself and all those kids, don’t fight nap time because it won’t be easy to sneak in a nap at the office when you grow up. Take a peek at how sleep times change as we grow.
- Newborns – Can achieve 16 to 20 hours sleeping on and off throughout the day and night.
- Toddlers – Usually get 11 to 12 hours of sleep, incorporating sleeping through the night and daytime naps.
- Late childhood – May very well be the “golden age” of sleep during a lifetime. After the ages of 11 or 12, sleep disturbances begin to creep in.
- Adolescence – Need 8 to 9 hours, although with their hormones they tend to stay up late and then wake up early for school, rarely reaching their allotted necessary sleep times. They often try to make up for it by sleeping late on weekends where it can be quite difficult to wake them up at all.
- Adults – Need at least 8 hours but like teenagers, the majority rarely reach optimal sleep times, but usually due to busy schedules, work, stress and trying to get the kids to sleep.
- Elderly – Also need at least 8 hours but struggles to clock in those hours all at once. They often retire to bed early and rise very early in the morning with naps throughout the day.
Whatever your age, begin by identifying sleep underlying problems
It’s not all in your head. As you age, sleep can become less satisfying and even worse, less restorative. Does some of this have to do simply with age? Of course. But as your sleep success deteriorates or improves, it can affect your overall health. As you improve your health you can improve your sleep – and vice versa. Some reasons people may be sleeping less in relation to health issues can include but is not limited to the following:
- Heart conditions
- High blood pressure
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder
- Respiratory disorders
- Sleep apnea
- Restless leg syndrome
Many of these health issues go untreated or undiagnosed simply because so many think sleep problems are a part of getting older and nothing can help them get a better night’s sleep. But treating underlying medical issues can radically improve sleep quality. Consult your doctor if you think you’re your health issues may be keeping you from a great night’s sleep.
Early bird special
What’s keeping you up at night? It may be a sore back or a bad hip, heart trouble or an out-of-whack knee. Whatever it is, nighttime sleep troubles can affect you from the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you go to back to bed at night. And those sleep struggles can create disrupted nighttime sleep, leaving naps as the only alternative. Trouble is, naps can sometimes magnify those sleep challenges and disrupt sleep further.
As we age, lack of sleep is a whole lot more dangerous than a cranky day. When it comes to how long you’re going to live, there’s a lot of truth in the saying that genetics is a loaded gun – but your environment is the trigger. And sleep can be the finger that pulls that trigger. You may carry genes for a multitude of diseases, but whether you get them or not is largely dependent on how you live your life – and how much sleep you get.
While we can’t control getting older each year, we have control over how well we sleep each night. Keep these tips in mind as you track your sleep habits through the ages:
- Make sleep a priority
- Identify underlying health problems
- Improve sleep habits
- Use diet and exercise to improve sleep
- Reduce mental stress
- Talk to your doctors about sleep problems
How has your sleep changed as you got older? Let me know!