Sleep Information for Senior Citizens
How much sleep do you really need?
Eight hours seems to be the standard for the required amount of sleep at night. But does that number hold true for everyone? It depends.
Infants and toddlers need the most sleep – nine to ten hours at night plus naps during the day. School-aged children, including teens, do best with nine to eleven hours a night. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
While older adults need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults, older adults tend to sleep more lightly and for shorter periods than do younger adults.
Do some people just need fewer hours of sleep at night? Yes, it’s estimated that somewhere between 1%-5% of the population sleep six hours or less a night without ill effects. The need for less sleep tends to run in families, as does the need for more sleep, which suggests a genetic basis for sleep duration.
Sleeping less than six hours – or more than nine hours – has been associated with increased risk of health problems and a greater risk of dying.
The most important factor in determining how much sleep you need is whether you are routinely feel rested during the day. Do you tend to feel drowsy, or does your concentration ability decline in low-stimulus situations, such as long drives, reading, watching television, talking on the phone or completing desk work? If this sounds like you, you’re likely not getting enough sleep.
Improve sleep habits
Poor sleep habits, including a poor sleep environment and poor daytime habits, can be the main causes of sleep problems and low-quality sleep. In many cases, older adults develop these poor sleep habits over a lifetime but find they create more and more problems as they age. Fortunately, these habits are easy to improve.
Be engaged. Social activities, family, and work can keep your activity level up and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep.
Improve your mood. A more positive mood and outlook can reduce sleep problems.
Exercise regularly. Exercise releases endorphins that can boost your mood and reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.
Expose yourself to sunlight. Bright sunlight helps regulate melatonin and your sleep-wake cycles. Try to get at least two hours of sunlight a day. Keep curtains and shades open during the day, move your favorite chair to a sunny spot, or consider using a light therapy box to simulate daylight.
Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. All are stimulants and interfere with the quality of your sleep.
Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool, and your bed is comfortable. Noise, light, and heat can cause sleep problems. Try using a sleep mask to help block out light.
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, even on weekends.
Develop bedtime rituals. A soothing ritual, like taking a bath or playing music will help you wind down. Relaxation and stress management techniques, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, take some practice but their benefits can be substantial.
Napping: Good or Bad?
When you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, taking a nap during the day seems like a good way to catch up. Sometimes a nap can be just the refresher you need, improving your alertness and performance. But in other cases, napping may be interfering with your nighttime sleep, which in turn can make you want to nap even more the next day, creating a downward spiral of poor sleep.
In general, naps that last longer than 30 or 40 minutes or occur late in the day can disrupt your nighttime sleep. If you’re being treated for insomnia, your doctor or therapist may want you to avoid napping until you can get a healthy nighttime sleep schedule established.
However, if your sleep problems are limited, there are times when napping might be appropriate. For example, you might want to take a brief nap if your sleep schedule was disrupted by a one-time event or if you expect to go without sleep for an extended period of time. Some people enjoy napping so much they make it a planned part of their sleep routine.
If you’re going to nap, do it in a quiet, cool, dark place with few distractions so you can actually sleep rather than toss and turn. To get the most out of a nap, keep it to close to 30 minutes or so. The longer you nap, the more likely you are to feel groggy afterward. The best time for a nap is typically after lunchtime or in the early afternoon, which is when most people tend to feel the sleepiest. Take your usual bedtime into account, as well. Naps should generally occur at least four to five hours before your bedtime. Short naps taken during this time are less likely to interfere with nighttime sleep.