Sleep needs change over a person’s lifetime. Children and adolescents need more sleep than adults. Interestingly, older adults need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults — seven or more hours of sleep per night.
Unfortunately, many older adults often get less sleep than they need. One reason is that they often have more trouble falling asleep. A study of adults over 65 found that 13 percent of men and 36 percent of women take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep.
Also, older people often sleep less deeply and wake up more often throughout the night, which may be why they may nap more often during the daytime. Nighttime sleep schedules may change with age too. Many older adults tend to get sleepier earlier in the evening and awaken earlier in the morning.
There are many possible explanations for these changes. Older adults may produce and secrete less melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. They may also be more sensitive to — and may awaken because of — changes in their environment, such as noise.
Older adults may also have other medical and psychiatric problems that can affect their nighttime sleep. Researchers have noted that people without major medical or psychiatric illnesses report better sleep.
Not sleeping well can lead to a number of problems. Older adults who have poor nighttime sleep are more likely to have a depressed mood, attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, more nighttime falls, and use more over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids. Poor sleep is also associated with a poorer quality of life.
Many people believe that poor sleep is a normal part of aging, but it is not. In fact, many healthy older adults report few or no sleep problems. Sleep patterns change as we age, but disturbed sleep and waking up tired every day are not part of normal aging. If you are having trouble sleeping, see your doctor or a sleep specialist. There are treatments that can help.
If you have a sleep disorder it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep disorders can make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep during the night and can make you drowsy during the day. The following are the most common sleep disorders among older adults:
- Sleep-disordered breathing, such as snoring and sleep apnea
- Movement disorders, such as restless legs syndrome
Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint at any age. It affects almost half of adults 60 and older.
If you have insomnia, you may experience any one or any combination of the following symptoms:
- Taking a long time — more than 30 to 45 minutes — to fall asleep
- Waking up many times each night
- Waking up early and being unable to get back to sleep
- Waking up feeling tired
Short-term insomnia, lasting less than one month, may result from a medical or psychiatric condition. Or it may occur after a change in personal circumstances like losing a loved one, relocating, or being hospitalized. If insomnia lasts longer than a month, it is considered chronic, even if the original cause has been resolved.
Many factors can cause insomnia. However, the most common reason older ad