Aging & Sleep

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Aging and Sleep – What Does Growing Old Mean for Sleep?

The older we get, the more Sleep we need. Everyone needs to sleep, but your body’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep declines as you grow older. Getting enough good quality sleep is important for maintaining health at any stage of life. Go to bed at the same time each night, and try to set aside 7-8 hours for sleeping every night. However, if you need an alarm clock to wake up, this may indicate that your body isn’t getting enough sleep or restorative sleep.

What changes happen with aging?

As people age, they tend to require more sleep than when they were younger. This means that most adults over the age of 55 need between 7-8 hours of nightly sleep.

Do older people sleep less than younger people?

Older adults might not sleep as long as younger adults on average, but this is because older adults do not need more Sleep. Because of different lifestyle factors such as work schedules or caffeine consumption, students in their 20s may get by with 6 hours while some seniors may be sleeping for 9 (7-8).

A study done at the Uppsala University found that while there was no significant difference in the total amount of time spent asleep between young and old participants, the percentage of slow-wave sleep was lower in senior citizens than it was among 19 to 30 years old participants. Slow-wave sleep is associated with better memory function and improved ability to learn new tasks.

How does sleep change with age?

Sleep starts to change in your teens, which is around the time when puberty begins. It changes even more dramatically in the senior years. Sleep in seniors can be affected by many factors, including medications they are taking or conditions such as arthritis, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux), hypertension (high blood pressure), incontinence, and menopause that doctors will address with their older patients. Between 60-70% of people over 65 have trouble sleeping for one reason or another and there are steps you can take to try and improve your Sleep:

  • Practice a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Eat dinner several hours before going to bed. 
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime.
  • Get up at the same time every day, including weekends.

If you are having trouble sleeping because of pain or discomfort, speak with your doctor about what medications would be appropriate for you.

Do older adults have different sleep patterns?

The amount of time spent in certain stages of Sleep can change as you age. Generally speaking, older adults spend less time in deep sleep stages than younger adults. 

Older adults also tend to wake up more often throughout the night-again not necessarily because they need to but perhaps due to apnea episodes or simply getting uncomfortable laying down so long. This may mean that seniors have a harder time falling back asleep when they awaken, which can lead to “sundowning.”

It becomes harder to fall asleep and stay asleep as we grow older. In fact, according to a poll conducted in 2013 by the National Sleep Foundation, 40% of all Americans report that they don’t sleep well when they get older. Some of this may be due to medication use, but lack of exercise and other lifestyle habits are also factors in why so many people have trouble sleeping once they become seniors.

When is a person considered old?

This varies from country to country and society to society, but in most places, it is customary for a person to be considered “old.” when they hit their mid-60s or 70s (65+).  It’s thought that this is the age where people are usually retired, have lost their spouses or partners, and are slowing down both physically and mentally.

What are the most common sleep problems for older adults?

Arthritis can make it difficult to fall asleep because your joints may ache when you lie down. Waking up during the night, waking up earlier than usual in the morning, snoring loudly, or having trouble breathing while sleeping will also be more common as you get older.  Some seniors may even begin to experience “sundowning.” This is a term used to describe seniors who become confused and agitated at different times during the day (usually late afternoon and evening). This confusion and agitation could go unnoticed by those caring for them since it’s often worst in the evening. 

In what ways does sleep change as we age?

Millions of Americans suffer from sleep problems, but seniors are especially affected by this condition. There can be multiple reasons why a senior might have trouble sleeping, such as if they’re in pain or have trouble breathing while sleeping. If difficulties with sleeping persist, it is best to speak with your doctor about what medications would be appropriate for you. As we get older, our bodies undergo many changes which may affect how well we sleep, like arthritis making us ache or losing a significant other which causes us to wake up frequently in the middle of the night. It is common for seniors to wake up earlier in the morning, but if problems persist,  there are lifestyle changes that can help you sleep soundly through the night. 

How much sleep should old people get every night?

Studies show that older adults need less sleep than other age groups but often have more trouble falling and staying asleep. The National Institutes of Health recommends seven to eight hours of sleep each night for healthy adults. Seniors typically require the same amount of Sleep as anyone else their age, but they cannot make up for missed shut-eye with naps during the day. A lack of quality rest can cause feelings of grogginess or poor memory throughout the day.

Why do older adults sleep too much?

Older adults sleep so much because they are tired since their bodies might still be working harder than usual to heal themselves due to aging cells. Sleeping also restores your body after a long day.

What is a circle of Sleep?

Circle of Sleep refers to the recurring cycle that a person goes through to fall into and out of REM sleep. It all starts with NREM when your body transitions from being awake to sleeping. When your brain waves slow down, the next stage is when you enter deep sleep. This stage lasts around an hour before you go back up into lighter stages of non-rapid eye movement or NREM sleep for what is called slow-wave sleep (SWS). After this low period, you will move back up into REM, where dreaming occurs. When people are woken up during this latter part of NREM, they often feel groggy because it takes longer to transition from REM sleep. 

What amount of Sleep does an 80-year-old require?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that older persons get between 7 and 9 hours per night. For someone like an 80-year-old guy, some sleep experts advocate sleeping a little longer.

Why can’t the elderly have a good night’s Sleep?

Various factors cause insomnia and sleep disorders in older persons. Sleeping habits and sleep surroundings are both problematic. These include sleeping irregularly, drinking alcohol before bedtime, and falling asleep with the television on. Make sure your room is cozy, dark, and quiet and that your bedtime routines are relaxing.

What is the best way to cure insomnia in the elderly?

In the elderly, selecting a hypnotic substance depends on their symptoms. Sleep-onset insomnia can be treated with ramelteon or short-acting Z-drugs. Suvorexant or low-dose doxepin can help you stay asleep. Eszopiclone or zolpidem extended-release can be used for both sleep onset and sleep maintenance.

What is the most effective sleep aid for the elderly?

Nonbenzodiazepines including zolpidem, eszopiclone, zaleplon, and ramelteon are safer and more tolerated in the elderly than antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. However, pharmacotherapy should only be prescribed once sleep hygiene has been addressed.

Why do the elderly stay up so late?

The average person over the age of 65 wakes up three or four times per night. They are also more aware of the fact that they are awake. Because they spend less time deep sleep, older adults wake up more frequently. Needing to get up and urinate (nocturia), anxiety, and discomfort or agony from long-term (chronic) illnesses are some of the other causes.

When should the elderly go to bed?

To feel refreshed and alert, most healthy older individuals aged 65 and up require 7-8 hours of sleep per night and they should go to bed as early as possible. However, as you get older, your sleeping habits may change. Insomnia or sleeping problems may result from these changes.

How does aging affect sleep patterns?

Sleep patterns in adults over the age of 65 often shift and do not follow the same guidelines as a person between 18-25 years old. From ages 61 to 64, a person’s Sleep might start later and last slightly longer up to 9 hours. Around age 65, sleeping early becomes more common again, with an average of 8.5 hours per night. After age 75, you might get even less than this around 7 hours on average per night.

Does the elderly need less sleep?

No one needs less Sleep just because they are getting older or vice versa. All people require adequate rest for their body and mind to function optimally throughout life stages. The elderly often report sleep difficulties and other health problems that can interfere with rest.

How much should I sleep?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends seven to nine hours of nightly snooze time for adults aged 18 to 64 years. Seven to eight is advised for seniors over age 65. Not everyone needs the same amount of Sleep, so experiment until you discover your ideal sleep duration.

Is it normal for older people to wake up early in the morning?

Older people tend to wake up earlier than younger adults because they spend less time in deep non-REM and REM sleep and more time in lighter stages. Age-related changes in waking time may also be attributed to medical conditions.

What’s the best way to get a good night’s rest?

No one thing will lead to a good night’s sleep, but several things can help you fall asleep and stay asleep at night. The following advice might be helpful for those having trouble sleeping:

• Keep a regular bedtime schedule. This will help your body release chemicals (called melatonin) needed for Sleep at the right time each evening. If you feel like going to bed early or staying up late, make an effort to change your schedule gradually so it doesn’t interfere with sleep patterns. 

• Create a relaxing nighttime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or taking some quiet time before you go to bed. Try not to do anything too stimulating, like exercising right before bedtime. Read a book, sip on herbal

tea, or listen to soft music instead.

• Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature and invest in blackout curtains or shades if light keeps you awake. 

• If you’re having trouble sleeping, avoid napping during the day. This can make it harder to go to sleep at night. 

• Avoid drinking alcohol close to bedtime because it might help you fall asleep, but it reduces the quality of your sleep. Also, stay away from caffeine (coffee, tea, soda) six hours before bedtime and any food containing sugar close to bedtime as they both affect normal sleep patterns.

• Get some exercise during the day, but avoid strenuous workouts close to bedtime as they might energize you.

• If you have problems sleeping, talk to your doctor about getting a referral for a sleep study or an evaluation from a sleep specialist.

-National Institutes of Health

How does lack of Sleep affect the elderly?

Irregular sleeping patterns can contribute to many other health issues with aging by causing high blood pressure and weight gain. In addition, lack of Sleep reduces brain function, lowers immunity, and increases the risk of depression. Research further suggests that poor quality Sleep also leads to memory loss and mood imbalances. Which are common in older adults and encourage the development of dementia because there is less time spent in deep stages of sleep.

How do medications affect Sleep?

Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including allergy pills, cough medicine, tranquilizers, and painkillers, can have a detrimental effect on your sleeping habits. Some medications are designed to keep you up at night so they can wear off by the morning, but others make it more difficult for people to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. Check with your doctor before taking any new medication if you have trouble sleeping. 


With the rapidly growing older population, it is important for us to have a better understanding of how sleep changes as we age so we can provide effective medication interventions or advise our loved ones to seek help if needed. We hope you liked the information written in this guide. If you have any queries related to this topic, comment below, and our team will get back to you.



Ameer is the content director of Sleepingmentor, which means he not only reviews new mattresses, bedsheets, pillows, and mattress toppers every week, but also curates all the comparisons, best of pages, reviews pages, and vs pages on the site. He takes a straightforward, honest approach to his reviews. He covers sleep science by researching a lot on Google and finding meaningful content which entertains his users.

The product pictures used in this article are taken from, Inc. We are just using them so our users can make better decisions. This will save their time by seeing how the product looks like. Cheers 🙂

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