Sleep Patterns and Aging: It’s Not Your Imagination

Sleep Patterns and Aging: It’s Not Your Imagination

As with all of our body’s functions, our sleep patterns also change as we get older. According to the National Sleep Foundation, we experience a decline in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep because we tend to spend more time in lighter stages of sleep as we get older. Other factors may be to blame too, such as medications, lifestyle choices, illnesses, or diet.

How can we help induce a good night’s sleep?

Some suggestions include:

  • Eliminate caffeine after lunchtime
  • Resist the urge to nap during the day
  • Avoid using tobacco products
  • Drink in some sunlight during the day (which helps regulate melatonin production)

While a 9pm bedtime (and a 4:30 dinner time) are the punchline of many senior-centered jokes, there is merit to this shift. It even has a name: “morningness”. Earlier bedtimes, followed by earlier wake times, are common as we age because our circadian rhythm changes as we get older. Circadian rhythm is affected by many factors.


  • Light exposure
  • Posture
  • Ambient temperature
  • Sleep
  • Food intake
  • Core body temperature
  • Hormone levels (cortisol, melatonin, insulin, etc.)

Our sleep architecture (the stages and depth of sleep) continually shifts too. If you’ve had the pleasure of babysitting a toddler recently, you know that they can go to bed at 8pm and stay solidly asleep for 12 hours. A tornado could tear the roof off the house and they’d barely roll over in bed. That’s because a toddler’s sleep architecture matches the needs of their brain and body. A senior does not have the same requirements. While 7.5 hours of sleep every night is the suggested goal, only you know if you awaken fully rested after perhaps a solid six.

Do you have more questions about adjusting to physical changes as you age? Or perhaps you’re helping a loved one understand these changes too? Feel free to contact us if you have questions. We would be glad to put our years of experience to work for you.

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