Sleeping in Older Adults Older people need to sleep less, right? Guess again.

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As you get older your sleep gets more disturbed.  

You sleep less and the sleep you get is worse.  It’s all part of growing old though, right? Older people need to sleep less?  

Nope.  It is a myth that the elderly don’t need as much sleep as younger adults.

There are several reasons why older adults struggle to get a full night of good sleep.   

There is a change in the body clock in later life. The sleep hormone, melatonin, is released earlier in the evening in older adults meaning earlier bedtimes.  This becomes a problem as many people are in the routine of heading to bed later – accommodating evening activities such as watching a show, seeing friends or reading.   This frequently results in napping which then reduces one’s ability to fall asleep at night. It also makes for less time spent asleep as the change in body clock means earlier wake up times.

A weaker bladder means older adults tend to wake up more often.  The effects of some commonly taken medications and existing medical conditions also cause broken sleep.  Broken sleep results in less time in bed actually spent asleep and is spent tossing and turning.

There is a reduction in the quality of deep sleep in older adults due to a change in certain sleep-brain waves during NREM sleep.  Many of the restorative processes of sleep, both physical and mental, occur in NREM sleep. As such, older adults can wake feeling unrested.  

The link between sleep quality and health is well proven.  Sadly, many people fail to associate loss of good sleep in later life with other health issues.  

If you’re an older adult and not sleeping well, try to go to bed when you are tired. Do your best to get out of bed and into natural light as soon as you’re able to in the morning and avoid napping (no matter how tempting!).

Written by
Sam Billington

Sam is our sleep guru. I am fascinated by sleep and I've used my science training to research and learn about sleep. I have been providing sleep advice and personal sleep plans for years. My day job is Head of Workplace Culture in Defra, I live in London with my wife and have a PhD in Ecology and Biology.