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How Much Sleep Do I Need as I Get Older?

By Paul Rothbart

Amount of sleep needed as we age

You can’t put a price on good health. Its value is beyond calculation. Although you may be born in good health, it takes work to sustain it throughout your life.

One aspect of good health that is often neglected but no less important is sleep. The body restores itself and repairs damage during this vital time. Many people cut sleep short in order to have more waking hours for doing their work and chores and fun and games.

It is also a general consensus that children require the greatest recommended amount of sleep, though this number drops as you age. Although it is true that different age groups have different sleep requirements, it’s a misconception that seniors need the least. You may be surprised at how many hours of sleep per night older adults need.

Look, everyone knows that proper nutrition is essential. Your body needs vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for fuel, building and maintaining tissue and bone, and fighting off illness. And everyone knows that exercise plays a vital role in good health as well. It keeps all of the body’s systems working properly, helps maintain a healthy weight, and is also good for mental health.

But everyone isn’t dialed in to the importance of the Sandman and why proper sleep should be on everyone’s radar.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Everyone wants a good night’s sleep and to wake up feeling rested, but how many hours should people sleep every night? The number does depend upon age but it can vary within that category depending upon the health of the individual and how active of a lifestyle they have. The National Sleep Foundation recommends these guidelines broken into age categories:

  • Newborns aged 0-3 months - As expected, the youngest people need the most sleep with 14-17 hours per day recommended.
  • Infants aged 4-11 months - As babies approach their first birthday, the recommendation drops to 12-15 hours.
  • Toddlers aged 1-2 years - This group has a slightly lower recommendation of 11-14 hours.
  • Preschoolers aged 3-5 years - At this stage, little ones need 10-13 hours of sleep each night.
  • School-age 6-13 years - The NSF recommends 9-11 hours for this group of children.
  • Teenagers aged 14-17 years - This group is active and many tend to not get enough sleep. The recommendation is 8-10 hours.
  • Young adults aged 18-25 years - By this age, people have reached the standard recommendation for adults of 7-9 hours each night.
  • Adults aged 26-64 years - This group too has a recommendation of 7-9 hours.
  • Seniors 65 and older - Although this group’s recommendation is the smallest, it does not drop off as much as some people think. Older adults need 7-8 hours of sleep every night.

These recommendations should be followed but they are guidelines. Individuals in each category may need more or less sleep depending on their personal circumstances. Your doctor can help you determine the right number for you.

What Is the Importance of a Sleep Routine and Environment?

There is a difference between good sleep and merely lying in bed all night, intermittently dozing. Poor sleep quality is not going to do its job no matter how long it lasts. If you have trouble sleeping and struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep all night, you need to make some changes to your sleep habits.

You should plan for good sleep and there are two parts to this. This first is establishing consistent sleep schedules. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day helps your body establish regular sleep patterns. The body will know when to fall asleep and how long to remain that way. This will improve your sleep and allow you to get the necessary amount every night. It’s also important to refrain from caffeine and alcohol at least two hours before bedtime. As well, stay away from electronic screens to allow your body to begin to relax and prepare for sleep.

The other part of setting yourself up to sleep well is to create the right environment. Your bedroom should be a sleep sanctuary. You want it quiet, dark, and on the cooler side because studies show most people sleep better in lower temperatures than they set the thermostat during the day. Invest in a quality mattress of the right firmness to hold your body comfortably. Good pillows that cradle your head and keep your neck aligned are also very helpful, as are soft comfortable sheets and blankets. There should be no electronics in your bedroom. Many people like to watch television or look at their phones and tablets before sleep. This can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. You go to bed for sleep and nothing should get in the way of that.

What Happens During a Good Night’s Sleep?

There are five stages of sleep, and when you are sleeping well, you cycle through each of them several times a night. Each serves a purpose.

  • Stage one - The first stage is light sleep. Your eyes move and your muscles may contract as you drift in and out of sleep.
  • Stage two - The second stage is still light sleep but your body prepares for the deeper stages. Heart rate and respiration slow, your eye movement ceases, and your body temperature drops.
  • Stage three - The third stage begins the transition to deep sleep. The delta waves of the brain are very slow and waking up at this point would be difficult.
  • Stage four - The fourth stage is the deepest level of sleep and is when the body repairs tissue, releases hormones for growth and restores itself. It prepares your body and mind for the next day and is the most critical stage.
  • Stage five - The fifth stage is called REM sleep. This stands for rapid eye movement. It first occurs about 90 minutes into the sleep cycle and lasts about 10 minutes. Each subsequent REM stage lasts a bit longer. Brain activity increases and this is the stage where dreams most often occur.

Good sleep habits ensure that your body will go through every stage of the sleep cycle and fully refresh and restore itself.

What Kinds of Things Get in the Way of Getting Good Sleep?

Sometimes, despite setting up a proper environment and a regular schedule, you may still have trouble sleeping. This could be due to a sleeping disorder.

One of the more common sleeping disorders is restless legs syndrome (RLS). People with RLS feel tingling, or a pins and needles sensation, in one or both legs. This tends to worsen at night and makes sleep difficult. A similar affliction is periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). This is when people’s legs jerk or twitch every 30 seconds or so. This can interfere with your partner’s sleep as well as your own.

Sleep apnea is also common and can be serious. This problem is connected to snoring and causes the sleeper to stop breathing briefly, which can happen many times during the night. It creates poor sleep and can cause serious health issues that include memory loss, high blood pressure, or stroke. If you have trouble sleeping and suspect you have a disorder, see a doctor immediately for diagnosis and treatment.

Everyone needs consistent, quality sleep. The amount varies depending on age and other factors. As one ages, more health-related obstacles get in the way of a good night of sleep. It might be difficult to change your lifestyle to create an ideal sleep environment, such as pulling the plug on the TV you watch as you drift into slumber. But sleep is important, and you need to get what you require. And for most of those 60 and above, you’re going to be at your best with 7-8 hours each night.

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