The National Sleep Foundation recommends that older adults age 65 and up get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. However, some seniors might find that they can function perfectly well on 5-6 hours of sleep, while some may need as much as 9 hours to feel fully refreshed and ready to face the day.
Sleep, much like food, water and oxygen, is essential to survival. Without restful sleep, seniors are more prone to accidents because they can become tired and inattentive. Sleep helps our bodies restore its energy level and improves our health and overall quality of life.
Aging and Sleep – What Changes?
As we age, our sleep patterns and needs change. Newborn babies and infants, for example, need as much as 18 hours of sleep per day. Adults generally need between 7 and 9 hours to feel rested and functioning properly. Seniors, however, tend to get less sleep than they need due to a variety of reasons that are still being studied and determined.
Seniors often have more trouble falling and staying asleep than younger adults. One study of adults age 65 and over found that 13 percent of men and 36 percent of women can’t fall asleep within a 30-minute timeframe. Plus, seniors tend to sleep less soundly and get up frequently throughout the night. Or, changes in sleep patterns can occur; some seniors get sleepy much earlier in the evening or wake up very early in the morning.
These changes can be due to a number of factors. First, seniors can be more sensitive to noises in their environment. It’s also possible that seniors produce less melatonin, the hormone that helps promote sleep. Certain illnesses, medications and psychiatric problems can also affect nighttime sleep in older adults.
Promoting Healthy Sleep Habits for Seniors
While the amount of sleep we need can change as we age, problems with sleeping are not part of the normal aging process. The first step in managing healthy sleep habits is to talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have. Sleep disorders can be treated with lifestyle changes, such as:
- No more daytime napping. Sleeping throughout the day can make you less tired at night. Limit daytime naps, especially napping in the afternoons.
- Establish a nightly routine. Every night, do the same things before you get into bed, whether this is enjoying a nice cup of decaffeinated tea, a warm bath, or settling down with a book or magazine. Let your body know that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep.
- Limit electronics in the bedroom. The artificial light emitted by TVs, computers, tablets and cell phone screens can suppress production of melatonin and affect our circadian rhythms (our biological clock affected by sunlight), making it difficult to fall asleep.
- Exercise regularly. Adding exercise to your daily routine will help you sleep more soundly. Just make sure you finish your workout at least three hours before bedtime.
- Watch your diet. Avoid foods with high sugar content and caffeinated beverages later in the day.
- Don’t stress about sleeping. If you’re unable to fall asleep after 15 minutes in bed, get up for a little while until you start to feel tired. Try not to worry about falling asleep immediately and stay relaxed. Your body will let you know when it’s ready for sleep.