Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2019
Sleep as we age One of the great myths about sleep is that people need less sleep as they grow older. Actually, while our sleep patterns may change over time, the need for sleep becomes fixed in early adulthood and does not greatly change across the life course. Essentially an 85-year-old needs the same amount of sleep they did when they were 25. What actually changes as we get older is the ability to get the sleep we need. As we age we get progressively get less of the deep, restorative, Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) and thus our sleep becomes less refreshing. We start to lose our SWS in our middle years. Children have a lot of deep sleep. It is vital for growth, memory and learning and thus children can sleep anywhere, through anything and if they do wake there is a great deal of biological pressure for them to go back to sleep. Thus, if you lose this SWS as you age your sleep will become more easily disturbed and there will be less pressure on you to go back to sleep if awoken. Our sleep is further compromised as we get older because there are more things to wake us and keep us awake e.g., pain, bladder problems, anxiety etc. The lack of refreshment from sleep causes many older people to feel that they are suffering from sleeping problems, whereas much of what they feel could be accounted for by the natural changes in their sleep. The problem is compounded if the older person also naps during the day as this may use up some of their need for sleep and so they may sleep less at night, again causing them to perhaps believe that they have a sleep problem. The fact that it is more difficult to get good sleep as we get older does not lessen the importance of trying to get the best sleep we can.