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Sleep & Aging: Avoiding Poor Sleep

True or False: People over 50 require less sleep than younger adults.

If you answered "False," you're right. A common misconception is that older adults need less sleep than younger adults.

How are sleep and aging related?
The amount of sleep you need does depend on your age. Children and teens, for example, need more sleep than adults. Older adults need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults (seven to nine hours per night).

Sleep recommendations for different age groups include:

AgeRecommended Amount of Sleep
Newborns

16-18 hours a day

Preschool-aged children

11-12 hours a day

School-aged children

At least 10 hours a day

Teens

9-10 hours a day

Adults (including the elderly)

7-8 hours a day

Sleep needs and older adults
Regardless of age, sleeping well is essential to physical and emotional well-being. For many adults, a good night’s sleep is especially important because it helps improve concentration and memory. Sleep can allow your body to repair daily cell damage. It even strengthens your immune system. Unfortunately, many older adults often get less sleep than they probably need – or poor sleep altogether.

Along with the obvious physical changes associated with aging, certain changes to your sleep patterns are also part of the normal aging process. A lot of older adults have a harder time falling asleep. Then, once they actually do fall asleep, older people tend to sleep less deeply and wake up more often during the night. Poor sleep patterns may be why many seniors often nap during the daytime.

Sleep schedules may change with age, too. Many older adults tend to get sleepy earlier in the evening and awaken earlier in the morning.

Poor sleep can lead to problems
Not sleeping well can result in a number of health problems. Older adults with poor sleep patterns are more likely to feel depressed, and have attention and memory problems. They may also notice excessive daytime sleepiness.

Older adults who don’t sleep well are prone to accidents and falls, more illnesses and infections, as well as a significantly reduced overall quality of life. Sometimes, they become dependent on alcohol or medications to get enough sleep.

Sleep patterns do change as we age, but disturbed sleep and daytime drowsiness are not part of normal aging.

Sleep problems unrelated to age
Sleep and aging are not always related. Most people have nights of "tossing and turning" with little sleep. Sometimes – it’s a normal experience. But, if you experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis, talk to your doctor:

  • Difficulty staying awake when sitting still, watching television, or driving
  • Relying on alcohol (a "nightcap") or sleeping pills to fall asleep
  • Trouble controlling your emotions
  • Difficulty concentrating

Many people believe that poor sleep is a "normal" part of aging, but it is not. Many older adults report few or no sleep problems. If you are having trouble sleeping, talk with your doctor or a sleep specialist. There are treatments that can help.

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