Sleep Patterns as We Get Older



Most of us will have had the unfortunate experience of not being able to get to sleep, or waking up in the middle of the night and struggling to drop off again. However, new research has shown that if this happens regularly as you get older, you may find yourself in need of a better sleep pattern.

And from the several different studies on sleep over the years, all of the experts tend to agree that adults need to adapt to healthy sleep patterns.

In this article, I will be sharing some helpful advice for dealing with age-related sleep changes in older people because as we age, our sleep patterns change too.

Why is that sleep so important?

The main reason adults require sleep is to rest the brain. This was proven in 1966 by a 17-year-old who stayed awake for charity for an incredible 11 days. The effects on Randy Gardner were visible after just four days. Randy began to hallucinate.

Research on older people and sleep has been underway for more than two decades, and there is growing evidence that older people are developmentally vulnerable to sleep difficulties. According to Adam Spira who is an assistant professor at Bloomberg schools’ department, sleep disturbances are quite common in older people, and in fact, in older women, it has been shown that more fragmented sleep brings with it a greater risk of being given special attention.

Types of Sleep

There are two primary types of sleep:

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (Non-REM) sleep, also known as NREM

And every time we go to sleep we go through with three distinct and necessary NREM cycles, which range from light sleep to deep sleep. All these make up roughly half of a typical night of sleep.

 Meanwhile, REM and non-REM sleep change throughout the night, especially as we grow older. 

Sleep change in older adults is common and some red flags for sleep disturbance that caregivers can keep on the lookout for include:

  • Older adults who are having difficulty getting to sleep
  • Early morning awakenings
  • The inability to get back to sleep during the night (lasting longer than an hour)

These are red flags and should be reported to your care person’s physician as they are often associated with depression, pain, and/or other medical conditions that the older adult may be experiencing and can be easily treated.

The normal sleep time recommended for adults is generally about 7-9 hours of sleep per night depending on the individual.

Tips to improve sleep

Listed below are some tips you can follow for good sleep hygiene:

  1. Make sure to have a healthy sleep routine
  2. Have a bedtime ritual
  3. Exercise daily
  4. Sleep on a comfortable mattress
  5. Avoid alcohol and caffeine before sleep
  6. Turn off electronics before bed
  7. You need at least two hours of exposure to sunlight daily; this will boost the production of melatonin, which helps regulate your sleep
  8. Sleep in a cool and darkroom

In today’s fast-paced world, getting good and healthy sleep shouldn't be just a necessity but the first thing to go. People who get a good quality healthy night's sleep often live a better life and are less likely to suffer from illness. They are also more likely to be able to receive care in their own home ( domiciliary care ) or live in a retirement village rather than needing to live in a care home.