You can probably remember a time when you could function with little to no sleep, or — better still— uninterrupted lie-ins that lasted well into the afternoon. In fact, it might not have been so long ago that you could keep yourself up past 9pm (just us then?) or drift off with ease in the unlikely event that you woke up during the night.
So, do our sleep patterns really change as we age? And do we really need less sleep as we get older? Let's discuss.
First of all, how many hours do you actually need of sleep?
While kids need to sleep for around 12 hours a night and teenagers need roughly 10 hours, adults require only 8 hours of sleep to remain healthy. This doesn’t change as you mature but issues with falling asleep might trick you into believing that you "aren’t tired" and so, don't need to sleep for so long.
Age and sleep architecture
Your body changes as you age and those changes include altered sleep patterns. Older adults tend to have a harder time nodding off at night and can struggle to stay asleep. Your pattern of sleep is called "sleep architecture." Sleep occurs in different stages including dreamless periods of light and deep sleep, plus occasional periods of active dreaming (REM sleep). This cycle is repeated several times during the night, and on average, a sleep cycle lasts about an hour and a half. Now, you spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than you might have when you were a teenager (or even just a couple of years ago!) which is why you wake up more easily.
The impact of circadian rhythms
Beyond the changes to your sleep architecture, the passing years also delivers changes to your circadian rhythms, which regulate your bodily functions. As time goes on, you tend to become sleepier earlier in the evening, which might make you think you need more sleep, even though you've probably also started to wake up earlier. Basically, you need the same amount of sleep, it’s just the timings that tend to change.
Right, so we still need the recommended 8 hours a night?
Generally speaking, it's normal for your sleep patterns to have altered over the years but it's important to remember that you still need those 8 hours of quality zzzs. The new you may fall asleep on the couch in the evening or spend what feels like copious amount of time trying to drop off, but go with the flow. The amount of sleep you need hasn’t changed but the way you manage to achieve it probably has.
If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, your first port of call should be your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.
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