Changing Sleep Patterns with Age

It is normal for sleep needs and sleep patterns to change as we age. The older we get, more time asleep is spent in lighter sleep stages and less time is spent in the deeper, restorative stages of sleep.

Unfortunately for many adults, sleeping “like a baby” is a distant memory. There are a number of factors that influence sleep, such as genetics, biology, and anatomy. The effects of society and environmental factors on sleep cannot be overlooked either.

One of the myths related to sleep and aging is that as we age, we need less sleep. In fact, there is no change in our need for sleep as we age. However, initiating and maintaining sleep becomes more problematic – it takes longer to fall asleep and it is easier to awaken from sleep.

Fragmented Sleep and Daytime Sleepiness

Studies have shown that as we get older, sleep tends to get shorter and more fragmented. The fragmented sleep leads to more time spent in the lightest sleep stages that are not as refreshing and restorative as the deeper sleep stages. Sleep can be disrupted by frequent trips to the bathroom at night, which is common in middle-aged men with prostate issues or by hot flashes, as is seen in Menopause in women. Sleep fragmentation can then lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and issues with concentration and vigilance.

The Effects of Age on Circadian Rhythms

Another common occurrence in sleep as we age relates to our circadian rhythm or internal body clock. Many adults find that they become sleepy much earlier in the evening and go to bed earlier than they did in adulthood. This change in the circadian rhythm also prompts older adults to wake up earlier in the morning. This circadian phase advance may be remedied with Bright Light Therapy.