We all know sleep is vital and that the number of hours we get each night plays an essential role in our health and wellbeing. But, while it’s common knowledge that children and adults require different amounts of sleep, there’s often confusion over whether adults of different ages also have varying needs. In particular, the question of “Do we need less sleep as we age?” is a common one.
The Sleep Process
It’s important to understand how sleep works to find out whether seniors require fewer hours than other adults. Sleep includes two parts: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). NREM features four stages, ranging from light to deep sleep. We cycle through these stages every 90 minutes before REM sleep. During REM sleep, our eyes move back and forth beneath the eyelids, our muscles become immobile, and dreaming can occur.
According to researchers, sleep is regulated by our unique circadian clock and sleep-wake process. Together, these systems work to make us feel tired at night and awake during the day.
The sleep-wake process balances the amount of sleep a person requires and the amount of time they spend awake. The circadian clock regulates hormone production and body temperature on a 24-hour cycle to promote sleep at night and wakefulness throughout the day.
Ageing and Sleep
Along with physical changes, ageing can also bring about natural changes in sleep patterns. For those over 55, this typically includes feeling tired earlier at night and waking earlier in the morning.
Additionally, research has also shown that depth of sleep decreases with age. Therefore, seniors often experience less REM sleep, which can make them more susceptible to sleep disturbances and affect their quality of sleep.
However, it’s important to note that a variety of factors can cause reduced sleep quality. So, it shouldn’t be considered a regular part of ageing. In fact, research indicates that sleep disturbances among the elderly are often caused by physical and psychiatric conditions and the medications used to treat them. So, it’s essential to investigate any issues of poor sleep.
Research shows that while the amount of sleep needed varies among individuals, our sleep requirements remain consistent over our entire adult lives. As such, older adults require the same amount of sleep as younger ones.
So, while ageing does change sleep patterns, it doesn’t lessen the amount we need. Therefore, seniors should still aim for seven to nine hours of shuteye each night.
For seniors who have trouble getting to sleep at night, the problem may lie in their lifestyle rather than a reduced need. Due to lighter sleeping and waking up more frequently at night, seniors often nap throughout the day. This can cause trouble getting to sleep at night and feelings of wakefulness when in bed. Limiting naps and being more active throughout the day can help.
Benefits of Sleep
The right amount of quality sleep can greatly benefit seniors. Along with helping to maintain their health, it can also aid mood and memory while reducing the risk of falls.
To find out more about sleep benefits, read our post on Why a Good Night’s Sleep is Vital for Seniors.
Sleeping less is not a natural part of ageing. If you or a loved one are having problems, and you’ve considered environmental factors, consider speaking to a doctor.
Learn how you can improve your sleep with a BedGuard mattress. Our waterproof designs are ideal for seniors and available in a variety of sizes. Browse the range to find out more.