Sleeping through life: Changes in sleep as we age
The latest research on sleep has found that our sleep requirements change throughout our life.
For example, the US National Sleep Foundation recommends that toddlers get 11-14 hours a day while adults up to 65 years should be getting 7-9 hours per night.
We asked NeuRA sleep experts Professor Danny Eckert and Dr Hanna Hensen why sleep changes as we age and how we can make sure we are getting a good night’s sleep.
What is the normal sleep amount for a child?
This is a complicated question. Babies, children and teenagers need more sleep than adults. There is wide variation in individual needs though, and this can change a lot in the first few years. This chart from the U.S. National Sleep Foundation is a useful guide for sleep duration recent sleep duration recommendations for more information:
The Sleep Health Foundations fact sheet is also a great resource.
Why do teenagers sleep cycles seem so out of whack with the rest of us?
Typically, teenage sleep patterns are different from those of adults or children. They may need more sleep – up to ten hours – and their sleep patterns can shift with many having a tendency to go to bed later and get up later.
Sleep is a trained behaviour, so routine is key. Across the week, teenagers’ sleep patterns can be irregular. For example, to meet school schedules during the week, sleep opportunity may be limited which can cause inadequate sleep and disruption in the natural body clock. Sleeping late on weekends can cause further disruption to the natural body clock cycles by disrupting the patterns of sleep experienced throughout the week.
Research has also found that teenagers tend to use screens late at night, which can be unhelpful as they suppress the natural release of the hormone melatonin which helps promote sleep.
These behavioural factors that limit sleep can become a problem if they impact their learning, their mood or their well-being. If this is the case, visit your GP who mat suggest a sleep specialist. See the Sleep Health Foundation for more information on teenage sleep for more information.
Is it true older people need less sleep?
Sleep patterns and sleep requirements change throughout life. However, there is a common myth that older people need less sleep. Older people tend to have less deep sleep but that does not necessarily mean they need less sleep.
The U.S. National Sleep Foundation’s recent sleep duration recommendations indicate that people over 65 should get about as much sleep (7-8 hours per night) as younger adults (7-9 hours per night).
However, there are several factors which can affect the sleep of this age group. Firstly, it can take older people more time to fall asleep than younger people, which can lead to feeling the need to sleep earlier and therefore wake earlier.
Secondly, similar to teenagers, the typical routines of this age group can impact their sleep pattern. For example, after retirement there is more opportunity to nap throughout the day which can impact night-time sleep.
Lastly, older people tend to have more types of chronic health conditions that may contribute to changes in the quality of sleep and insomnia is quite common in older people.
How do you know if you are not getting enough sleep?
There are some signs in adults that you may not be getting all the sleep you need. Many of these can also relate to other conditions, so may not be directly caused by poor sleep. Here is a list of things to look out for:
- Puffy or red eyes with dark circles or bags
- Moodiness or irritability
- Memory and concentration problems
- Feeling sleepy during the day
- Waking up unrefreshed or with a headache
- The need for stimulants such as coffee
- Trouble getting up in the morning
- Weight gain due to increased appetite