Living with Diabetes

Sleep throughout the ages: changes in your needs for sleep

As a child, it is often the people around you who are hoping that you sleep through the night.

However, as you age you are more likely to find yourself praying for a good night’s sleep.

It is common knowledge that sleep is essential, but as you age, it gets more important as it can protect you from becoming ill.

Less sleep has been linked to several mental and physical illnesses, including depression and type 2 diabetes.

Although everyone is unique, certain issues can affect people at certain ages or at specific life stages.

Here is an all you need to know guide outlining how much sleep you need for your age.

How much sleep do you need as you age?

Although sleep is continuously important no matter your stage in life, the amount that you need can change.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise eight to 10 hours of sleep per day for 13- to 18-year-olds.

They then advise:

  • seven hours of sleep per day for 18- to 60-year-olds
  • seven to nine hours of sleep per day for 61- to 64-year-olds
  • seven to eight hours of sleep per day for over 64-year-olds

However, The National Institute on Aging believe that all adults should sleep for seven to nine hours each night.

On the other hand, prior studies have strongly advised that most adults should avoid sleeping for longer than nine hours.

Getting over nine hours of sleep per night is said to be appropriate for children, people who are recovering from an illness and those catching up on sleep.

Lauri Leadley, registered polysomnographic technologist, clinical sleep educator, and president of Valley Sleep Center, said: “The amount of sleep adults need remains consistent throughout their lifetime”

However, she continues: “Older people spend less time in the deeper REM stages of sleep, causing an issue for consistent deep sleep.

“In addition, the circadian rhythm changes with age, causing earlier sleeping hours and earlier awakening hours.”

Stages of sleep

According to The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are four stages of sleep.

Stage 1: Non-REM sleep

Your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements will all reduce speed.

Stage 2: Non-REM sleep

Your heartbeat and breathing continue to reduce, your temperature decreases, your eye movements stop, and your brain activity reduces with short intervals of electrical activity.

Stage 3: Non-REM sleep

Your heartbeat and breathing reduce speed to the lowest levels of sleep. Your muscles will become relaxed, and it is typically difficult to wake up.

Stage 4: REM sleep

Your eyes will stay shut but will start moving side to side quickly. You will have mixed brain activity and dreams usually happen during this stage.

 Ages 18 to 25

Research suggests that your brain develops between the age of 18 and 25.

During this stage, researchers believe that sleep is vital for development.

Sleep is so important during this age as it is needed to:

  • Support your brain development
  • Organise and store your memories
  • Keep up with your academic and professional life
  • Maintain your mental and emotional health
  • Maintain your energy levels throughout the days

Laura Leadley says: “​​Quality sleep aids the brain’s ability to organise and store memories.

“Without it, one may feel forgetful more often and a lack of sleep may also result in the development of artificial memories.”

An example of an “artificial memory” is when a person has turned the lights out before leaving a room.

People in this age group are either still in education or beginning their careers, which can have an impact on their sleep.

Alex Dimitriu, double board certified psychiatrist said: “School or starting work also results in later nights out, and [people often keep] an early wake schedule to get to work.

“This particular combination can lead to insufficient sleep times.”

Previous studies have revealed that “insufficient sleep times” can affect an individual’s mental health.

In 2019, more than 200 medical students in Saudi Arabia determined that low sleep quality is connected to increased feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, which can have a negative impact on their academic and professional performance.

This is reinforced by 2021 research which concluded that mental wellbeing can be improved with better sleep quality.

Insufficient sleep for this age group is frequently caused by people not prioritising sleep, according to Leadly and Dinitriu.

If young adults viewed sleep as a necessity, this could alleviate issues caused by insufficient sleep and create beneficial sleep habits that they can carry through the rest of their life.

Leadley says: “Your relationships and careers won’t be worth anything if you sacrifice sleep.

“Think of your sleep as your energy source for your brain and body.”

She added: “If we don’t plug in our cell phones, it doesn’t get us through the day.

“If you don’t charge your body’s battery, eventually it will run down, or not work well.”

Aged 26 to 35

Although by 26 years old the brain is usually fully developed, sleep will still be essential during this age group.

Sleep during the age range is important because it helps you adapt to major life events, preserve your energy for parenthood, maintain your performance for work and maintain your mental wellbeing.

During this life stage, people also tend to make the decision to have a relationship, get married and have children.

First marriages often take place when women are 28 and men are 30, according to the Pew Research Center. They also state that women become first time mothers at around the age of 26.

Figures of live births between 1972 and 2015 suggest that men typically become first time fathers around the age of 31.

Sleep patterns change when people become parents. Parents have said that their sleep satisfaction decreased greatly during the first months of their baby’s life. A 2019 study stated that parents didn’t get back their pre-pregnancy sleep patterns for up to six years.

Insomnia is a side effect of postpartum thyroiditis, which affects up to 10 percent of women, according to the American Thyroid Association.

Alex Dimitriu says that a development in your career causes stress and a loss of sleep. Often when people have a pile up of changes in their life, sleep becomes less of a priority.

This can cause a lack of sleep, which has negative effects on the way people perform both at home and work. Trouble sleeping has been linked to worker health and safety.

A 2008 study concluded that people make more mistakes when sleep deprived and a 2019 study concluded that sleep deprived mothers are less likely to use positive parenting practices.

Dimitriu highlights that these factors can cause stress, which can have a negative impact on sleep, so he recommends exercising, meditating, a regular sleep schedule, and connecting with people who are not part of your household.

Sleep in your 40s

In your 40s, new concerns about sleep can arise including sleep apnoea, decreased quality of sleep, feeling tired throughout the day, changes in hormones, and less production of melatonin.

Sleep is still vital in this age group to maintain:

  • Your mental and emotional health
  • Recovery from stress
  • Exercise recovery
  • Sleep apnoea

A 2018 study revealed that moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnoea frequently starts for women in their 40s and even earlier for men. Sleep apnoea is a condition that causes momentary breathing intervals during sleep.

The study implied that sleep apnoea lowers quality of sleep, with it interrupting sleep more as you age.

In 2019, a study suggested that participants who were at great risk for obstructive sleep apnoea had low quality of sleep too. “Excessive daytime sleepiness” is a prominent symptom of sleep apnoea, according to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

“Obstructive sleep apnoea causes broken sleep,” says sleep apnoea expert, Jeff Rodgers.

He added: “We all need light, deep, and REM sleep. Most people are aware that REM sleep is when you’re dreaming.

“Think of fragmented sleep as an interruption in your dream. You literally may bounce out of REM too soon and have some light sleep or even wake up.”

Changes to your lifestyle, for example losing weight or using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, can help treating sleep apnoea.

Regulating your intake of alcohol is suggested by Dimitriu as alcohol has been connected to a greater risk of sleep apnoea.

The CDC suggest that women should only have up to one alcoholic drink per day, and men to have up to two drinks per day.

For women, their 40s is a time when the menopause is likely to take place.

Women ages 40 to 59 who have gone through the menopause are more likely to struggle with sleep compared to premenopausal women in the same age bracket.

Leadley explains: “The declining estrogen levels that occur during menopause, as well as sleep sweats, are associated with insomnia.

“Estrogen plays a key role in brain function as well as the impact of sleep.”

A 2020 review found that the production of melatonin in the body also decreases during the ages of 45 to 50, which can affect the sleeping cycle.

Regardless of these changes, good sleeping habits are still vital for people in their 40s.

Rogers says: “Good sleep is important for memory, mental health, ability to deal with stressors, and recovery from physical exertion.”

To make up for the loss of melatonin in the body, people can take supplements, however, this is not advised by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Instead of supplements, Leadley suggests that exercise could be a more beneficial solution to insomnia.

“Exercise is the key,” she says. “Your muscles and tissues are repaired during this slow-wave sleep period, [the deepest phase of sleep], so if you give your body more repair work due to increased physical exertion, your body will respond with more slow-wave sleep.

“Aim for 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every other day or more.”

 Sleep for 50s and over

As your age increases, so does your physical health concerns.

The American Heart Association reports that heart disease is more common for older people, with those aged over 64 at the greatest risk. This can be extremely problematic for undetected sleep apnoea because it causes reduced oxygen flow throughout the body.

According to Rogers, this can lead to issues such as heart attacks, high blood pressure, and strokes.

In 2021, a study with a mean participant age of 61 concluded that insomnia was overly common for those with coronary heart disease.

However, some medications that are prescribed for heart disease, such as beta-blockers, can negatively impact sleep. Rogers recommends consulting with a healthcare professional to combat sleep issues should they occur.

Sleep can also cause mental issues, such as loneliness, for the over 50s.

The CDC claim that older individuals are more likely to feel lonely, with researching showing that poor sleep can intensify feelings of loneliness.

Dimitriu believes that taking time for yourself can be used as a way to focus on improving your sleep, such as implementing a healthy lifestyle.

He explains, “As careers get established and kids grow up, it’s a perfect time to focus more on one’s health and longevity.”

Dimitriu suggests taking up beneficial habits, such as exercising and following a regular sleep cycle.

A 2017 study with an average participant age of 57 implied that irregular sleeping patterns were connected with:

  • A higher intake of alcohol
  • More sedentary time
  • Insufficient rest

A Japanese study in 2017 suggested that group exercise can be extremely beneficial to your well-being.

Clearly, sleep is essential at all stages throughout life.

The extent of sleep needed may stay relatively consistent after reaching 18 years old, however there are different influences that impact our sleep as we age.

Changes, such as starting work, having children, the menopause, sleep apnoea, and loneliness, have an immense impact on sleep quality.

Making sure you get a sufficient quality of sleep should be a priority at all ages as it lowers the risk of both mental and physical conditions.

Experts have also suggested that healthy lifestyle habits will lead to improved sleep.

To Top