Most people will agree that the opportunity to grow older is a gift, but it’s hard to look at it that way when you consider the widespread belief that a good night’s becomes harder the older we get. While the quality and quantity of sleep may shift as we age, the reality is older people sleep just fine – and often better than their younger counterparts.
For example, a 2015 Swiss sleep study from the University of Lausanne looked at participants ages 40 to 80 and found that though the elderly participants slept less, they reported better quality sleep, and they also felt more awake during daylight hours. The researchers also found that older subjects complained significantly less about sleepiness lower than younger subjects.
Unfortunately, the data also shows that sleep latency – that’s the time it takes to fall asleep – increases with age. One study with adults over the age of 65 saw 36% of women and 13% of men take more than 30 minutes to nod off on a regular basis. Both sexes experience more nighttime restlessness as they age, including those midnight trips to the bathroom. Still, the bottom line is older adults function better during the day and feel more rested.
If you always wanted to be a morning person, but couldn’t quite manage it, you’ll be pleased to hear that there’s hope for morning liveliness in your golden years – even if you’ve been a long-time night owl.
It has a fancy name – “advanced sleep phase syndrome”. What that means is simply that you’ll feel sleepy earlier and be ready to get to bed earlier in the evening and subsequently get up earlier, too.
Why do our sleeping patterns change as we get older?
“Our chronorhythms shift as we age,” explains Dr Michael Breus, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and a SleepScore Labs advisory board member who is also known as “The Sleep Doctor”. “Our body’s circadian rhythm moves to an earlier time. Old habits of going to bed at a particular time may be well ingrained in our evening, but if our body wants to wake up earlier (due to a shift in core body temperature, which changes melatonin production), we will get less sleep.”
Complicating matters is the fact melatonin levels dwindle with age, further disrupting the sleep-wake cycle. So rather than fight against your body pushing you to wake up earlier, go with the flow. Dr Breus suggests going to bed earlier.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that poor sleep is a normal part of aging. It’s not. If you’re experiencing problems, talk to your doctor. Not sleeping well might indicate an underlying condition.
Another good reason to book an appointment? Any medication you’re taking may be interfering with your sleep. It’s worth speaking to your doctor if you think this may be the case.
For more fun sleep facts and expert sleep advice, why not visit our Sleep Blog?