Getting older can bring on many changes to our bodies. When it comes to how we sleep, sometimes getting older can bring on new obstacles to enjoying a full night of rest. Changing hormones and a shifting relationship to work, exercise, and social engagements can all create differences in our sleep patterns. For aging bodies, finding a way to navigate all these changes can be tricky. Here are a few factors to consider for getting the best possible night’s sleep as you age.
Our Sleep Depth Decreases as We Age
When we’re infants, our body needs to spend as much time as it can sleeping so that our developing brains and growing limbs can get the restorative time they need. Babies sleep anywhere from 16 to 20 hours per day for basic development. As we get older, our ability to sleep for consistent periods of time decreases. When we reach a mature stage, our ability to sleep deeply becomes affected by changing hormones and bodily functions due to:
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Respiratory problems
Even though mature adults need at least 7-9 hours of sleep per night, it can become harder to get those hours all in one night. Because of this, midday naps become more important as we age and aren’t as likely to sleep through the night.
Older People Need as Much Sleep as Young Adult
Young adults are famous for needing a ton of sleep. This has many factors, including the increased pressure that many young students are under during waking hours. The changing hormones of bodies during puberty and young adulthood can feel similar to those experienced by mature adults. In short: The more stress your body is under during the day, the more important it is to get the proper amount of restorative, REM and N3-stage NREM hours at night. While young adults may be feeling the stress of physical and mental growth, older individuals need the same amount of sleep to cope with the strain everyday activities put on the aging body.
Our REM Cycles Change with Age
While younger people and adults up to the age of 40 tend to have a harder time falling asleep, once they’re asleep they tend to be less prone to disruption. A National Sleep Foundation Study from 2005 showed that 39% of mature adults wake up at least once in the middle of the night, leading to a disruption in deep REM stage sleep. Because REM sleep is the way we heal and restore ourselves during the night, frequent interruptions that prevent adults from reaching the deepest sleep stage can result in taking away many of the basic health benefits of a good night’s sleep, no matter how many actual hours they get.
So Does Our Circadian Rhythm
We’re all born with a natural internal clock that tells us when it’s time for bed. Thanks to our circadian rhythm, our bodies know to release the sleep-inducing melatonin at night rather than during the day. Our circadian rhythm, however, is subject to change as we age. While teens and young adults are prone to stay up late and sleep in, more mature adults fall into the habit of getting tired in the early evening and waking up closer to dawn. This process is a variation on delayed sleep phase syndrome, a process by which a person falls out of step with their natural circadian rhythm. While this is a natural occurrence, it also means that, for a large number of mature adults, getting the proper amount of sleep depends on getting to bed as early as possible.