Have you ever wondered how aging affects your sleep? It's finally time for retirement and leisure after years’ hustle and bustle in your career. However, it’s also the time when you notice some changes in your body and sleep quality. Research shows that although the total sleep time remains the same or slightly decreased (around 6.5 to 7 hours per night) for old people, they sleep more lightly than young people. More than a third of older Amricans said they have resorted to medication to help them fall asleep. Old people experience more abrupt waking up at night, reaching the number of 3 or 4 times per night on average. Another significant change is that old people become sleepy earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning due to an earlier shifting circadian rhythm. If you feel these changes when you sleep, there is no need to get nervous or scared because these are normal physiological changes as you age. However, you should also pay more attention to the importance of good sleep since healthy sleep can help to slow down the aging process inside your body. You should try to keep healthy habits to reduce as many sleep changes as you can.

Benefits of Sleep for Elderly

Table of Contents

  1. How Aging Affects Sleep and Benefits of Sleep for Elderly
  2. How many hours of sleep do seniors need?
  3. Sleep Tips for Older Adults on Adapting to Sleep and Aging
    1. Sleep Tip 1: Use circadian rhythm to improve sleep quality
    2. Sleep Tip 2: Develop bedtime routines and rituals
    3. Sleep Tip 3: Decrease the number of night awakenings to sleep consistently
    4. Sleep Tip 4: Exercise during the day to reinforce sleep-wake cycle
    5. Sleep Tip 5: Create the perfect sleep environment
    6. Sleep Tip 6: Don’t overload on food

1. How Aging Affects Sleep and Benefits of Sleep for Elderly

Alzheimer’s disease

The primary cause of low sleep quality among old people is reduced melatonin secretion. The aging process, chronic illness related to aging and its medication will all affect melatonin secretion. Apart from aging related causes, irregular sleep habits and emotion fluctuation are also common reasons for the aging changes in your sleep. You can try to take it easy and try to accept these changes inside your body with an easy mind. At the same time, you should keep in mind that good sleep is even more important and beneficial now than your younger time. A good night’s sleep helps to improve old people’s concentration and memory, avoid oversleeping during daytime, improve cardiovascular health, boost mood and appetite, decrease the risk of depression and make your golden years more vigorous.

Sufficient high quality sleep can significantly help to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Our brain will clear harmful toxins and debris inside it when we sleep, and one of the toxins being cleared during sleep is likely to be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. Research shows that chronic insufficient sleep(less than 6 hours per night) will accelerate the process of dementia. Sufficient sleep is also beneficial for old people to keep balance and reduce risk of falling, sharpen your reaction and judgement and prevent memory loss. Besides, high quality sleep helps to relieve high blood pressure, repair damaged cells and tissue, reinforce the immune system, boost metabolism, prevent diabetes and maintain a normal weight as well. Good sleep can also prevent breast cancer particularly for older women.

Thus, high quality sleep is even more important and also more difficult to get for old people than young people. Here are some tips to help you improve sleep quality in your golden years

2. How many hours of sleep do seniors need?

You might think seniors need less sleep because they tend to wake up earlier, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! Interestingly enough, it has been found that older adults generally need the same amount of sleep as younger adults -- around seven to nine hours of sleep per night to feel rested and alert. However it is correct that sleep patterns do change as we age, and most seniors tend to have trouble falling asleep. There are a few possible explanations for this phenomena - older adults may produce less melatonin (the sleep hormone) and can be more sensitive and awaken to any changes in their sleep environment. Therefore, it’s important to practice healthy sleep routines so your body gets the right amount of rest it needs!  

3. Sleep Tips for Older Adults on Adapting to Sleep and Aging

Sleep Tip 1: Use circadian rhythm to improve sleep quality

circadian rhythm to improve sleep quality

You should set up a consistent sleep time and stick to it. Try to train your sleep-wake pattern by going to bed and getting up around the same time each day. You should go to bed only when you feel sleepy and don’t lie on bed if you are awake. Also, an earlier sleep time is part of the natural aging process and thus you should gradually adjust your sleep time accordingly to improve sleep quality. Although you may lie in bed earlier than before, this natural adjustment will greatly help you to get enough good sleep. Last but not least, you should limit your daytime napping. Plenty of free time in your golden years may let you include napping into your daily routine. With the advantage of limited nap, we suggest that you should nap before 3pm and sleep around 20 minutes to one hour so that you won’t have a tough time falling asleep at night. 

Sleep Tip 2: Develop bedtime routines and rituals

Taking a hot bath, doing some stretching and meditating before going to bed are useful ways to develop soothing rituals for sleep. Also, we suggest that you should try to avoid stimuli such as coffee, cola, chocolate or smoking four to six hours before sleep. Besides, avoiding electronics with LED screens at least one hour before sleep can help you to fall asleep more easily. The blue light in electronics is disruptive to our brains when we are trying to fall asleep, making our brain perceive this light as sunlight and keep us alert instead of sleepy. These bedtime routines and rituals can play a big role in reminding the body of falling asleep and in making you feel sleepy.

Sleep Tip 3: Decrease the number of night awakenings to sleep consistently

You should avoid fluids before going to bed. Night Time awakening can significantly affect the sleep quality of old people. Cut back on liquids before sleep to avoid a full bladder at night. Also, don’t forget to take a trip to the bathroom before lying on bed to help you sleep more consistently. If you cannot fall asleep again after night awakening, you can read for 20 minutes to bore yourself back to sleep.

Sleep Tip 4: Exercise during the day to reinforce sleep-wake cycle

Exercise to reinforce sleep-wake cycle

Even if your mobility may not be at the same level with that of young people, you should aim to exercise everyday. If possible, pair the exercise with an outdoor activity. The natural sunlight outdoors will help reinforce your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, so you are more prone to sleep when it gets dark out.

Sleep Tip 5: Create the perfect sleep environment

You also need to pay attention to your bedroom environment. A dark, quiet and cool bedroom with a warm duvet helps you fall asleep faster. You also need to regularly clean and change the mattress, pillow and sheet to guarantee enough support and comfort they provide. Besides, make sure your bed is for you to sleep but not watch TV, get glued to your phone or check your working email.

Sleep Tip 6: Don’t overload on food

Don’t overload on food

Family reunion and company annual dinner often commence at night, but the festive mood also enlarges the lure of a big meal. Filling up on an enormous meal will result in bloating and an unwelcome sense of lethargy. Stick to something light that won’t risk a post-meal snooze. 

Beating insomnia as well as getting better sleep quality, especially in your senior years, can bring with it its own unique challenges. Hopefully our sleep tips for older adults are able to help you change your sleep routine, better utilize the best sleeping time for elderly and overcome any sleep and aging issues you might have. So you can sleep more soundly - as well as maintain a more healthy retirement lifestyle! 

Certified Wellness Consultant &
Co-founder of Hush Home

About Stephanie

As a certified health and wellness consultant, Stephanie is on a mission to inspire everyone to live a fuller life by sleeping better.

Stephanie designs and leads Hush Home's sleep workshops for Fortune Global 500 Companies such as Citibank, Manulife, and Standard Chartered to boost their employee performance and productivity with sleep science.

When Stephanie is not getting her 8 hours of snooze in, or reading and writing about sleep & wellness, she’s probably somewhere hiking with her little pomeranian, Dookie!