How Sleep Changes from with Aging

How Sleep Changes from with Aging

To understand the correlation between sleep and ageing, we need to understand what sleep is? A human body is a machine that produces, stimulates and regulates all the organ systems, along with the neurological functions to run the body smoothly.

If a person is in sleep he/she can be stated as the machine is at work but rest. To simplify the language, it can be said that the body is unconscious in a physical state, however other body functions are continuously carrying out their regular functions.

Sleep is considered essential because it makes the body rested completely, it is a

self-healing process formed by the body where the body heals severe complexes during the sleep hours, it makes the brain rest and strong simultaneously.

There's no proper theory to clarify why sleep has many changes, yet every change reflects a certain reason, dysfunction caused by internal or external factors. As the age increases in numbers, it also brings a great number of physical disorders with it. 

Elder people suffer from back pain, joint pains and many more dysfunctions that hamper their sleeping hours.

Ageing and changes in sleeping patterns

A survey study shows that aged people i.e. people above 45 - 50 years experience either a low quality of sleep or problems during their sleeping hours. 

These problems have the worst effect on all senior citizens (Best mattress for seniors). Ageing causes people to wake up often during the night and they also don't get sound sleep.

Aged people mostly sleep in parts i.e. they sleep for 2-3 hours wake up for a short time again sleep for 2-3hours henceforth over a while they are prescribed sleep medications. 

The period between sleep and wake up time is short, which makes older people think they are deprived of sleep. However, their sleep time remains the same as it was earlier; it might be deducted to an hour or two.

Science and body studies say that the age group of people ranging between 20-45 should normally sleep for at least 7 to 8 hours and the age group more than 45 should consider resting their body for more than 8 to 9 hours.

Kids, teenagers or adults (between the age group of 19 to 45) are more likely to fall asleep in quick time and have sound sleep compared to adults above 45 years. Here's why ageing is the reason for not having good sleep.

Sleep pumps up the process of restoration in the human body, ultimately leading to good health. A young human body has a lot of muscular strength, more stored energy form and a good skeleton structure to support overall body functions. 

Young people work more than the aged one's, that means their body gets more exhausted than the old people who tend to work very little. Little exhaustion doesn't allow the body to take more rest than needed. Less exhaustion means less sleep.

Age can also matter in mental health and sleep. Young people not only work physically but mentally too. Too many mental processes covered up in the whole day wear out the brain and other organs functioning in coordination with the brain. 

The human brain starts signalling the eyes to shut down and rest when it wears out completely and hence people start feeling sleepy after an exhausting day. Old people are less likely to have such exhausting days and thus don't feel more need to have a long sound sleep.

If we consider the above reasons we can understand how old people feel deprived of sleep. 

Ageing and changes in sleeping patterns

Common sleep problems and changes due to ageing

Humans have different sleep cycles and the sleep pattern depends on these cycles. They are as follow:

NREM 1st stage

Here the body relaxes and the brain tries to shut down the running process.

It starts right from the movement you close your eyes and start to sleep till 10 minutes. 

NREM 2nd stage

The body starts falling sleepy and eye movements come to a rest.

The second stage starts from 10 minutes after you try to sleep to the next 20 minutes. 

NREM 3rd stage

The body movements either slow down or come to rest and the brain progresses towards deep sleep.

The duration of this stage lasts about 50 to 60 minutes. 

REM 4th stage

This stage makes the body paralysed for that certain period however the brain comes to alert and feels or reacts to the stimulus.

The fourth stage of the sleep cycle begins after 90 minutes of falling asleep.

The above stages progress one after another in a certain pattern and get repeated throughout the night.

If the body gets the proper rest and peaceful sleep then only all these cycles repeat at least 2 or 3 times throughout the sleeping hours. Young people experience complete sleep cycles more than aged one.

Aged people experience an incomplete cycle due to their sleep pattern breaks. Even though they complete sleep of 7 to 8 hours but due to constant waking up (averagely 4 to 5 times per night) or disturbance in their sleep,(needing to urinate) they seldomly enter the NREM 3rd stage or fourth stage.

As they spend less time in NREM 3rd stage and REM 4th stage they remain more inactive in sleep where the brain is aware of the surroundings along with being close to the awake situation. This also makes older people feel deprived of sleep.

All the cycles are essential to provide the body with a night of healthy sleep and since it remains incomplete in aged people it makes them irritated, confused and hampers their cognitive processes.

How do these changes affect you and your sleep?

The above-mentioned changes can directly affect human health. Sleep deprivation leads to numerous sleep problems and harms mental and physical health together. 

As age increases, naturally, the body gets old too, and the nerve system works slowly compared to the young human body. The brain loses several nerve cells and the signals from the muscles to the body reach slowly.

This results in several sleep problems like:


Insomnia is a disorder where you do not feel sleepy at all even if the sleep is incomplete.

Insomnia has three classifications transient insomnia (limited only to a couple of sleepless nights), acute insomnia (extends up to 3 to weeks) and chronic  insomnia (extends more than 4 weeks)

Insomnia is more common in elderly people. 



Hypersomnolence or hypersomnia is an excessive sleep disorder seen more in older people despite completing the required sleep. It normally makes the elderly people sleep consequently.

RLS - Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome or RLS makes people move their legs frequently because of paraesthesias and dysesthesias that mostly occurs during sleep time.  It doesn't allow people to keep their limbs in one place for a time. 

It becomes a common thing after the age of 65 years.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that can occur at any age from 13 till the last breath but is more common in elderly people. Sleep apnea is a disorder caused due to obstruction in the upper airway. 

As the muscles around the nose tract weaken along with the age, it starts obstructing the breathing way. Sleep apnea is much more dangerous in older people as it completely stops their breathing ability for a certain time. 

As age increases, muscles lose more intactness and hence older people face more sleep apnea.

These are some disorders caused more as age increases and lead to an unhealthy sleeping life.

Sleeping environment

Make sure the sleeping environment of the elders is proper. Cool, the dark, silent and airy place are perfect as a sleeping environment.  

Elder people already suffer a lot from having a peaceful sleep, the environment they lie down in should be silent to have a good peaceful sleep, it should be abundant with fresh air and should be odour-free. (Don't use heavy alcoholic room fresheners in the bedroom)

A good environment ensures good sleep quality, and elder people need such quality sleep. 

Bedroom Temperature 

The bedroom temperature matters too to have a good sleep. You can't sleep in a too hot or too cold bedroom, the temperature should be moderated or as per the preference of the resident.

The main motto of room temperature is to calm down the body and relax all the tightened muscles so that the brain can signal it's time to sleep. 

Bedroom Temperature

Healthy lifestyle

Does a healthy lifestyle affect sleep?

Yes, it completely does affect one's sleep routine in all ways.

All people, especially ageing people, should opt for a healthy lifestyle including healthy eating habits, exercises both mentally and physically.

  • Stop drinking too many alcoholic beverages
  • It seems that alcohol helps in dozing off, but as the body gains consciousness it is more likely that the hangover or alcohol in the body won't let it have a proper rest or sleep at all. Too many alcoholic beverages or aerated drinks release certain hormones that signal the brain to stay active rather than closing down.

  • Avoid caffeine or carbonated foodstuffs before going to bed
  • This is essential to do since caffeine alerts the brain and wake just flies off from the eyes.

  • Don't eat too heavy meals before bedtime
  • Heavy dinner within 2 hours of sleep results in incomplete digestion and causes more problems in older adults.

  • Avoid being in contact with light or radiation-emitting devices
  • All the electric mediums that emit radiation such as mobile phones, television or laptops should be avoided at least half of an hour before bedtime. The light emitted from such devices makes the brain alert and doesn't allow the eyelids to rest

  • Train your brain - 'Bed is for sleeping’
  • Don't do any other stuff in the bedroom like having food or doing work. To help older people, we provide them with everything at their bed and this leads to unhealthy habits. Brain catches it as routine and it becomes difficult with the age to fall asleep within minutes.

  • Don't use medicines without prescription
  • Some people find it easy to just memorise any random medicine and use it to doze off. However, it is seriously hazardous to one's life and can also be fatal. The young body easily resists side effects or easily maintains heavy dosages of medications than those of older adult bodies.

  • No to tobacco consumptions
  • Elder people should strictly say no to tobacco products, it prevents the body from getting sleep. Also, it can be way more harmful to regulating other bodily functions.

  • Don't increase your heart rate before sleep time
  • Doing exercise is good, however, hitting the gym just before sleep can be a bad decision. Elder people too should avoid any exercises that increase their heart rate.

    How to prevent negative sleep changes?

    Sleep changes or sleep habits are easy to adjust at a younger age and are a mammoth task after a certain age yet not impossible to do. 

    Negative sleep changes are the changes that make you feel deprived of sleep and disturb your healthy sleeping style. First try to identify what makes your sleep disturbed, tackle the reasons and then build solutions for it.

    If the struggle is about preventing negative sleep changes follow these instructions to achieve the goal:

    • Make a strict bedtime routine and stick to it.
    • Ensure you sleep and wake up at the same time every day
    • Sleep deprivation in older people can be treated in many ways, trying to reduce the symptoms to get more sleep. If it's not treated by remedies you try, seek the help of a professional immediately as an ageing body isn't the area to run experiments on it.
    • Professional medical help is essential if you have severe sleep disorders. You can also try these methods to help and improve your sleeping habits.
    • Try natural remedial snacks - Eat or drink a little number of bedtime snacks to help in sleep. (Study shows people fell asleep with the help of lukewarm milk mixed up with turmeric powder)
    • Do bedtime exercises or activities to relax the body - Older people should do bedtime exercises such as controlled breathing exercises, continually blinking their eyes or activities such as listening to peaceful music helps a lot.
    • Use of antidepressants instead of medications - Antidepressants can help a lot of you who are opting to go for sleeping pills
    • Use calm lights in the bedroom
    • Get fresh oxygen before sleep

    Elder people should have a walk before their sleep in natural surroundings to ensure they get fresh oxygen and their eyes cool off with the temperature in the surroundings.

    Try out the above suggestions to enjoy the most quality sleep. It is normal to have feelings of sleep deprivation in old age however if it increases then consulting professionals is the perfect solution.

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