As you age, your body goes through a series of changes, and your sleep health is no exception. Despite feeling drowsy earlier than you’re used to, it’s possible to struggle to reach a deep state of sleep once you get older.
Sleep is the body’s chance to rest and repair itself. Getting poor quality sleep or a lack of sleep every night in your senior years is a critical issue that should be appropriately addressed before it can trigger a cascade of debilitating health conditions.
In this article, we’ll talk about the most common age-related sleep changes and how to adapt and deal with them by developing healthy sleeping habits. Let’s dive right in!
Age and Sleep Chart
First of all, let’s answer the question, how much sleep should you be getting? In 2015, the National Sleep Foundation issued new guidelines for appropriate sleep durations for different age groups based on a comprehensive review of scientific research and recommendations from sleep and health experts.
- Newborns (age 0 to 3 months old) 14 to17 hours of sleep
- Infants (age 4 to 11 months old ) 12 to15 hours of sleep
- Toddlers (age 1 to 2 years old) 11 to14 hours of sleep
- Preschoolers ( age 3 to 5 years old) 10 to 13 hours of sleep
- School-age children (6 to 13 years old) 9 to11 hours of sleep
- Teenagers (14 to 17 years old) 8 to 10 hours of sleep
- Younger adults (18 to 25 years old) 7 to 9 hours of sleep
- Adults (26 to 64 years old) 7 to 9 hours of sleep
- Older adults (ages 65+) 7 to 8 hours of sleep
The amount of sleep you need varies significantly from person to person. But based on this age and sleep chart by the NSF, senior people would benefit from up to eight hours of sleep every night. However, the problem is that it can be challenging for them to achieve this in one block due to age-related sleep changes.
Age-Related Sleep Changes
Once you reach your senior years, you’ll notice age-related sleep changes affecting your life quality. Sleep specialists suggest that changes in normal sleep patterns, otherwise referred to as sleep architecture, are expected to occur once the initial effects of aging set in.
There are multiple sleep stages, including light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep, which are repeated several times throughout a sleep cycle. Older people tend to stay in the lighter stages of sleep and spend less time in the deep and dreamless stage.
Since your body can no longer produce ample amounts of growth hormone as it used to when you were younger, it affects melatonin levels, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. As a result, the elderly deal with fragmented sleep. They are prone to waking up several times in the middle of the night, at an average of about 3 to 4 times, and still end up waking up early in the morning.
When not appropriately addressed, age-related sleep changes can take a toll on you, leaving you with side effects like sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep. Insomnia is prevalent among the older age groups, lasting for a few nights per week or worse. Frequently, it’s connected to underlying medical conditions, including arthritis, congestive heart failure, depression, and gastroesophageal reflux disorder.
Aside from age-related sleep changes, other contributing factors that can potentially cause sleep decline among individuals in their senior years include:
- Discomfort from a chronic illness
- Nocturia, the need to get up from bed to urinate
Sleeping Tips to Help You Adapt with Age
Ultimately, aging is inevitable. On the contrary, there are several strategies that you can implement to help yourself achieve a restful night and reap the wonderful benefits of sleep.
- Evaluate your lifestyle and identify the root causes of your sleeping issues.
Are you taking medications or under a lot of stress? It’s the first step to finding the right solutions to your age-related sleep changes.
- Talk to your healthcare provider.
If you are on continuous medication and have a strong feeling that it’s messing up with your sleep, talk to your doctor about it and request a replacement.
- Maintain an active lifestyle.
It’s okay to take things slow after retirement, but a lack of physical activity can trigger sleep problems. Try to do aerobic exercises like brisk walking or light jogging regularly. Aside from keeping your heart healthy, working out daily also promotes high-quality sleep.
- Quit smoking and drinking alcohol.
A recent U.S. study has discovered that exposure to nicotine or alcohol for a minimum of four hours before bedtime is linked to “increased sleep fragmentation.”
“These findings support the importance of sleep health recommendations that promote the restriction of evening alcohol and nicotine use to improve sleep continuity,” the authors of the study stated in the health journal Sleep. When you’re already struggling with age-related sleep changes, it’s a must to optimize your diet and lifestyle for success. Get rid of potential triggers that can exacerbate your situation.
- Get healthy amounts of natural sunlight exposure.
Older people tend to stay indoors for extended periods for many reasons, either due to inactivity or a health condition that hinders their movement. Sunlight exposure dictates melatonin release and the body’s circadian rhythm. Strive to get at least two hours of sunshine every day, preferably in the morning. Draw the shades up during the day. Use a light therapy box if you are physically unable to go outdoors or for long winter months.
Set your thermostat to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius), the ideal temperature for sleep.
No matter how old you are, the body is intrinsically designed to crave a cold and dark sleeping environment.
- Transform your bedroom into a serene sleeping sanctuary.
Make the necessary tweaks in your room to encourage rest and rejuvenation. Remove television, computers, or other blue light-emitting devices inside the bedroom. Invest in comfortable mattress or cotton-silk bed essentials with temperature-regulating benefits that can be extra helpful if you’re experiencing night sweats due to menopause or other medical problems.
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