Our need for sleep changes throughout our lifetimes, but maybe not as much as we once thought. Contrary to popular belief, adults 65 and older do not require less sleep than they did at 35 or 50. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep a night for adults of all ages.
Unfortunately, many adults over 65 do sleep less than the 7-9 recommended hours, which can be detrimental to overall health. Here’s what to know about sleep and how to improve sleeping habits.
What happens when you don’t sleep enough
Lack of sleep can reduce quality of life by affecting physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
Short-term consequences of reduced sleep can develop after a single night of poor sleep, and include:
- Daytime tiredness
- Reduced coordination
- Increase in slip and fall accidents
- Increase in motor vehicle accidents
- Impaired cognition, attention, and memory
Long-term consequences are more severe. Chronic lack of sleep is associated with:
- Heart disease
- Depression and anxiety and other mood disorders
- Decreased immune function
- Decreased life expectancy
Good things happen when you do sleep enough
Here’s what the body and brain are doing during at night while you sleep:
- Hormones are released or inhibited to regulate body composition, cell regeneration, and metabolism
- Muscle and tissue grow and repair
- Wounds heal
- Free radicals are eliminated from the brain and other organs
- Some memories are encoded for long-term storage, others are forgotten
In short, adequate sleep allows your body to repair and prepare for the following day and is vital to optimal health.
How senior adults can get better sleep
Everyone, regardless of age, can sleep better by doing simple things like improving sleep hygiene and avoiding caffeine close to bedtime, but seniors should also make sure to address age-related sleep issues:
- Seniors naturally find that they tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier than they used to. Don’t fight this tendency; work with it. Go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day.
- Keep naps short, at 20-30 minutes tops, so they don’t interfere with your regular sleep schedule.
- Replace regular nightlights with motion-sensitive nightlights in order to help prevent nighttime falls.
- Ask a snoring partner to see a doctor (for their sake and for yours) as the noise can cost you an hour of sleep a night. Otherwise, consider sleeping in separate bedrooms.
- Get some sunlight. Seniors tend to spend more time indoors, missing out on sunlight’s powerful effect to help regulate sleep cycles.
- Talk to your doctor about how existing medical conditions are impacting sleep. This may include prostate enlargement for men and reduced levels of estrogen for women.
- Look at your meds. Many kinds, including antidepressants, interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep cycle. This is in addition to the natural decline of melatonin production as we age.
By improving sleep habits and working with your doctor, you can avoid many of the sleep disorders that occur with age and enjoy better health because of it.