How your sleeping needs change as you get older

The way in which our minds and bodies react to sleep can change as we age. The length and pattern of a young child’s sleep can differ vastly from those on the other side of the spectrum. These sleeping habits develop from a change in our sleep needs over time, as well as from a number of other contributing factors.

For more information on how your sleep needs change over time, read our guide which covers a wealth of information on the matter. From how sleeping habits typically change, to the factors which make sleep more difficult for older individuals, you’ll find everything you need to know about sleep over the years here.

How sleeping habits tend to change

The most common change in sleeping habits as a person gets older is the amount of time in which they sleep for. Whilst toddlers can sleep for 10-12 hours in one sitting, older generations may struggle to get a measly 6 hours in. Much of this is down to the fact that younger children need those additional hours of sleep to grow and develop, something which older individuals require a lot less of.

Research from the Royal Society For Public Health developed what’s known as the “slumber number”, a table which consists of the recommended number of hours for individuals within different age groups. The slumber number suggests that while 1-2 year olds require 11-14 hours of sleep a day, those aged 65 and over need just 7-8 hours instead.

That being said, there appears to be a growing trend in the number of older individuals who are struggling to the right amount of sleep each night. Quality sleep is classed as the recommended number of hours in continuous sleep, allowing your body to pass through the different sleep cycles multiple times. Older people are much lighter sleepers than younger individuals, which can see them waking up 3 or 4 times throughout the night, if not more.

Even though older adults typically tend to enjoy a nap or two throughout the day, it’s vital that they also try to get the recommended amount of sleep every night, to maintain their health and stay feeling well.

What makes sleeping more difficult as we age?

To work on improving the amount of quality sleep an older individual achieves, it makes sense to understand what could be causing this lack of sleep in the first place. There are many factors that contribute to poorer quality of sleep over time, so assessing each individual’s own circumstances is vital for determining what could be the problem.

Physical changes

Natural changes to a person’s body can be contribute to a poorer night’s sleep. As we discussed earlier, older people require less time for growing and developing and so the levels of growth hormones in the body tends to lessen over the years. In turn, this can reduce the amount of time in which an individual can sleep for at once.

Another physical change that we experience over time is a reduction in melatonin levels, which is responsible for regulating sleep. There’s also the decline of how well neurological receptors perform as we get older, which are what lets our bodies know when it’s time to go to sleep.

Health conditions

There are many health conditions that come about in later years that don’t tend to affect younger individuals. As these health conditions develop, they can wreak havoc on the quality of sleep.

The likes of gastroesophageal reflux disease, heart disease and chronic pain are just a few of the major health changes that can badly affect your sleep. Less severe conditions that we develop over time, such as sleep apnea and snoring, can also keep you up in the early hours.

Changes to your routine of lifestyle

A solid routine can lead to all kinds of benefits – countless nights of quality sleep can be one of them. Of course, when a person retires or when their children leave home, that well-kept routine can change and cause disruptions to how well they sleep at night.

Emotional lifestyle changes or events can leave a person feeling restless, especially when it’s something as emotional as the death of a close one or trouble with finances, for example.

There’s also the environment a person sleeps in, which can have a major impact on sleep quality if it’s changed in any way. If an individual has been settled in a space for many years and this is altered in one way or another, it can take time to readjust and settle back into a comfortable sleeping pattern.

There’s no saying what will happen in your older years, but it’s crucial to try and maintain a quality sleeping routine for as much of the time as you can. By understanding how your body’s needs change over time, you’ll be able to take the necessary steps towards keeping your slumber in check, whilst reaping the benefits that come from a good night’s sleep.

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