“Half of older individuals report some form of sleep difficulty, including longer sleep onset times, lower rates of sleep efficiency, more time in bed, more awakenings during the night, earlier wake up times, and more daytime naps.”
(Stepnowsky e Ancoli-Israel 2008)
Some sleep changes are normal as we age. But which changes can be expected, and which sleep myths we should clear?
Sleep duration decreases!
Total sleep time decreases with age, decreasing about 8 minutes per decade in males and 10 minutes per decade in females.
Sleep is less effective!
Sleep efficiency declines start with the onset of adulthood, and continue to slowly decrease with advancing age.
Is harder to go back to sleep!
It’s true that we stay awake 10 more minutes per decade after we wake in the middle of the night, but this number remains mostly unchanged after age 60.
Deep sleep decreases!
In general, the proportion of slow-wave sleep (deep sleep) and REM sleep decreases with age, but again it remains mostly unchanged after age 60.
Go to sleep early!
Older adults commonly experience an advance of sleep schedule. They tend to have sleepiness earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning.
It is harder to go back to sleep!
Older adults maintain the ability to reinitiate sleep and fall back to sleep as rapidly as younger adults.
More daytime sleepiness!
Older adults nap more frequently, however, this may be related to lifestyle changes and opportunity more than an increase in sleepiness.
Need less sleep!
It is a common misconception that older adults require less sleep. In general, they should get as many hours of sleep as younger adults.
Poor sleep quality is not necessarily due to ageing alone, and can be associated with polypharmacy, psychosocial factors like depression and loneliness, and disorders like nocturia. But we have good news! With some lifestyle changes, that the experts call “Sleep Hygiene”, you can sleep better. Here are some tips for better sleep:
Regular physical activity is related to better quality of sleep: fall asleep faster and sleep longer.
Reduce screen time after dark!
Bright lights, televisions and smartphones can reduce melatonin production and make it more challenging to fall asleep.
Avoid stimulant substances!
Intake of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and even large meals 4 hours before bedtime can make sleep more challenging.
Keep a regular sleep schedule!
Napping and irregular bedtime can reduce sleep time. Try to go to sleep and get up around the same time each day.
Have a bedtime routine!
Activities that help to relax before getting into bed, also help to fall asleep more easily. Consider meditation, a warm bath or reading a book.
Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature, not too hot or too cold, and as quiet as possible.
Irish, Leah A., Christopher E. Kline, Heather E. Gunn, Daniel J. Buysse, e Martica H. Hall. 2015. «The Role of Sleep Hygiene in Promoting Public Health: A Review of Empirical Evidence». Sleep medicine reviews 22 (agosto): 23–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2014.10.001.
Li, Junxin, Michael V. Vitiello, e Nalaka S. Gooneratne. 2018. «Sleep in Normal Aging». Sleep Medicine Clinics 13 (1): 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsmc.2017.09.001.
Miner, Brienne, e Meir H. Kryger. 2017. «Sleep in the Aging Population». Sleep Medicine Clinics 12 (1): 31–38. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsmc.2016.10.008.
Stepnowsky, Carl J., e Sonia Ancoli-Israel. 2008. «Sleep and Its Disorders in Seniors». Sleep Medicine Clinics 3 (2): 281–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsmc.2008.01.011.