Age and sleep

Why does sleep change as we get older?

Sleep is an essential part of our health, just as diet and exercise are, but it is often overlooked. This could be because sleep is relatively new in terms of research and we don’t fully understand it. However, while older adults still need a similar amount of sleep to all adults, it has been found that with age, you go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier. This could be biological or possibly being more sensitive to light in the morning.

Our bodies naturally produce melatonin – the sleep hormone. Darkness tells the body to produce it so that you can fall asleep and light tells your body to stop producing it so that you can wake up. This is why it is possible older adults to wake earlier if more sensitive to light.

As you age, there are many reasons why you may struggle with sleep. These include:

  • Chronic illnesses
  • Medications
  • Less exercise
  • Less exposure to daylight
  • Less social activities

Sleep is imperative to health as lack of it can affect moods, behaviours, memory, mental health and so on. The Sleep Charity has some top tips to help you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule
  • Get out into natural light as soon as is practical in the morning, preferably around the same time every day
  • Engage in daytime exercise
  • Avoid stimulants that contain caffeine 8 hours before bedtime
  • Don’t go to bed full, hungry or thirsty
  • Reduce electronic use before bedtime and avoid electronic use in the bedroom
  • Don’t use alcohol to sleep
  • Ensure the bedroom is cool, dark and quiet before bed
  • Ensure that bedroom clocks are not visible
  • Avoid nicotine before bed

If you’re really struggling with sleep, then call the National Sleep Helpline on 03303 530 541

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