Do You Need Less Sleep As You Age?

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If you’ve spent any time with babies or young children, you know how often they fall asleep. As we get older, our sleep patterns change from sporadic sleep and multiple naps to a more consolidated sleep period overnight. Plus, our days are filled with adult activities and responsibilities, so naturally, we end up sleeping fewer hours.

It begs the question: Do we actually need less sleep as we grow older? What are are some of the factors that determine our sleep habits as we age?

The National Sleep Foundation, recommends 14-17 hours of sleep for babies from birth to three months and 8-10 hours for teenagers. Young and mid-age adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. For those 65 years of age or older, the foundation suggests 7-8 hours of sleep daily.

Experts may suggest fewer hours of sleep as you age, but actually obtaining that needed sleep could be the bigger challenge.

[Editor’s Note: The information provided should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a sleep doctor or other medical expert if you have questions related to your own health.]

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“Given what we know, late childhood may well be the ‘golden age’ of sleep during a lifetime,” say experts from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Beyond the age of 11 or 12, sleep disturbances begin to creep in. In fact, nearly 7 out of every 10 adults experience problems that affect sleep quality.”

These sleep disturbances may stem from more than just the natural physical outcomes of getting older, experts say changes to our sleep patterns are part of the normal aging process, too.

Related: Middle Age Sleep Problems Tied To Cognitive Issues Later In Life

“Studies on the sleep habits of older Americans show an increase in the time it takes to fall asleep (sleep latency), an overall decline in REM sleep, and an increase in sleep fragmentation (waking up during the night) with age,” says the National Sleep Foundation.

“Because most older adults are less able than younger adults to maintain sleep, the elderly suffer disproportionately from chronic sleep deprivation,” says the team of experts from Harvard Medical School.  “Sleep deprivation may cause individuals to unintentionally nod off during daytime activities. Late afternoon naps can also reduce a person’s ability to sleep through the night, thus potentially worsening insomnia.”

Below are a few tips from the folks at Harvard to help improve your sleep quality:

  • Skip the caffeine, alcohol, or other chemicals that could inhibit your sleep
  • Keep your room dark, quiet and cool
  • Fall asleep only when you’re truly tired
  • Use light as a natural alarm clock

The bottom line: Once we leave childhood, the number of recommended hours of sleep stays fairly consistent well into older adulthood (around 7-9 hours). It’s the age-related physical changes to our bodies and sleep cycles that may become a challenge meeting those sleep needs.

Recognizing your sleep patterns and making recommended changes may impact the quality of your sleep and help to prevent sleep deprivation. If you have concerns about your sleep quality, it’s always best to speak with a medical professional.

[Editor’s Note: The information provided should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a sleep doctor or other medical expert if you have questions related to your own health.]

Featured image: Motortion Films/Shutterstock

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Katie Golde

Katie manages the day to day operations of the Mattress Clarity news site and reviews sleep products in addition to writing and editing sleep news.She hails from Austin, where she lives with her growing family. She is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and has a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and has a background in health and science content. Her work can be found in print and online publications like Discover Magazine, USA Today and The Huffington Post.