The Truth About Aging and Sleep

The Truth About Aging and Sleep


Compared with younger people, older adults need same amount of sleep.

Older adults need 7 to 9 hours a night — the same amount as younger folks. Sleeping less (or more) than that can throw off your body’s natural rhythm and make you tired during the day.


50%-60% of older adults have a hard time sleeping

Insomnia is a common sleep issue for people 60 and older. You may have trouble falling asleep or wake up too often or too early. You may not be able to get back to sleep and feel tired in the morning. Many different things can cause insomnia. It’s worth a conversation with your doctor if you’re not sleeping well.


As you get older, you’re more likely to become an early bird

A change to your body’s internal clock may mean you’re up before the sun. Older people tend to fall asleep earlier at night and wake up earlier than they used to. This pattern is called advanced sleep phase syndrome.


Changes in sleep patterns mean older adults spend more time in light sleep

That could be why we wake up more easily as we get older. Deep sleep, called slow wave sleep, is when your body repairs itself and builds energy for the next day. REM is dream sleep, when your eyes move quickly in different directions. During that stage, your brain processes information from the day before and shifts it into long-term memory.


A change in melatonin may affect your sleep as you age.

Your body makes less of this as you get older. It’s made by a gland in your brain and controls your sleep-wake cycle. It’s released into your blood at night and helps you feel sleepy. Your levels of it stay high throughout the night and drop off by the next morning.


One rare kind of sleep disorder can make you act out your dreams.

During REM sleep, your muscles can’t move, so your body is still. But REM behavior disorder turns this off. So you might talk, yell out, or even jump out of bed while you’re asleep. It’s not common, but it happens most often in men over age 50.


If you nap, you shouldn’t sleep longer than 20 minutes

You may find yourself dozing off more often as you get older. Naps can perk you up, but keep them short. This is about all you need to feel better. Snoozing longer can make you feel groggy. And don’t nap in the late afternoon or early evening. That can make it harder to get to sleep at night.


Research shows you may sleep better after you retire.

One large French study found that people were 26% less likely to report sleep problems in the first 7 years after retirement than in the 7 before. Men reported better sleep in those years than women. An Australian study found that retirement was linked to good lifestyle changes like exercising and sleeping more.


If you can’t fall asleep 30 minutes after going to bed, you should get out of bed

Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning. Go to another room, and do something soothing like reading or listening to music. Go back to bed once you feel drowsy. Don’t turn on the TV or use your computer or cell phone. The light from those devices can make it hard to fall asleep.


Dementia can mix up your days and nights.

Researchers think Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia may damage the areas of the brain that control sleep. Some people who have these diseases may doze during the day and stay awake at night. Those who can’t sleep may wander around the house or yell or call out.


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