Sleeping As We Age
Let’s face it: as we grow older, our sleep habits change. As babies, we needed almost 16 hours of sleep per day. When we were teenagers, we needed between 8 and 10 hours. As adults, we should get over seven hours each night.
So, what about those of you who are 65+? How many hours should you be getting? Also, if you are having trouble obtaining the proper amount of sleep, why is this?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults 65+ should be sleeping between 5 and 9 hours per night. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are a bit more specific and say it should be between 7 and 9 hours per night. However, as the number of hours you need changes when you get older, so does your actual sleep quality. Just because you are supposed to get 7 to 9 hours per night, what does your sleep actually look like?
First off, many adults 65+ do not sleep throughout the night. According to the Mayo Clinic, older adults sleep more lightly than younger adults and for shorter spans of time.
Why do older adults sleep so fitfully? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) also says that older adults wake up more often throughout the night, making it more likely they will need to take a nap the following day. Some experts say that these wakeups could be due to urinary interruptions. Women can deal with stress incontinence, while men could struggle with the issues accompanying an enlarged prostate.
Besides these interruptions, adults 65+ also deal with changing sleep cycles. When we sleep, we go through four sleep stages, followed by REM sleep. As we sleep, we go into deeper stages where it is more difficult to wake up. A normal adult cycle runs for about 90 to 110 minutes.
However, this is not always the case for elderly sleepers. Studies have shown that they spend less time in stages 3 and 4 and experience much less REM sleep than younger adults. So, they are rarely sleeping too deeply, making it easier to be disturbed by sounds and lights; this could be one cause for interrupted sleep.
It might also have to do with melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate our sleep. As we age, our body produces less melatonin, meaning that we will sleep lighter and more fitfully than when we were younger.
In addition, the majority of adults 65+ also go to bed earlier and wake up earlier than younger adults. A few studies have tried to examine exactly why older adults are more “early birds.” One found that a lack of daylight could be too blame. Some older adults live in nursing homes or some sort of hospice care. Because of this, they spend less time outside and have less access to daylight; this could interfere with circadian rhythms and actually make them produce more melatonin when it is not even dark out yet. If you are 65+ and having issues with your sleep, don’t worry. There are solutions.
Good Sleep Hygiene
First, make sure you are practicing good sleep hygiene. These are habits and routines that will ensure you get the best sleep possible; this includes keeping a close eye on your caffeine intake. That cup of Joe might help you get through that afternoon lurch, but drinking it too late could make it much more difficult for you to fall asleep.
The same applies to alcohol. It may seem like that nightcap is helping you fall asleep, but this simply isn’t true. Alcohol actually disrupts sleep, makes you need to use the restroom more throughout the night, and impairs REM sleep. Since elderly sleepers already have issues with incontinence and sleep interruptions, alcohol could be seriously detrimental.
You also want to make sure that you are setting a solid sleep schedule. Even if you are an early bird, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Also, be careful when taking naps. They could also make it harder to sleep through the night.
While exercise could help to promote healthy sleep, make sure not to work out too close to going to bed; this could make you feel more awake, just when you are trying to go to bed. A common issue for sleepers of all ages is technology in the bedroom. Cell phones, TVs, and laptops all emit a blue light which can seriously disturb your sleep. Keep technology out of the bedroom. If this is not an option, try not to use these devices before bed. You could also consider taking up journaling, reading, or meditating before bed. These activities can be calming and make it easier to fall asleep.
It may be more difficult to sleep as we age, but there are still ways to ensure you get the best sleep possible. Keep this advice in mind, and get to sleep!
About the Author:
Marten Carlson Marten has been writing about sleep and sleep health for over a year now. He is Content Manager at Mattress Clarity where he covers sleep news, reviews bedding products, and appears in instructional videos. He received his bachelor’s degree in Film Production from Denison University and his master’s degree in Film Studies from Emory University.