“Those kids sleep all the time!” Grandparents have long been heard to complain that their teenage grandchildren stay in bed until noon if they have a chance—and these seniors probably remember how hard it was to get their own teens out of bed for school in the morning!
Seniors also may express the wish that they could “sleep like a baby”—or a teen. It’s true that sleep problems become more common as we grow older. Physical pain, depression, cognitive changes, frequent urination or the side effects of certain medications can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.
But gerontologists and sleep experts have long noted that some seniors might believe they are suffering from insomnia merely because they don’t sleep as many hours as they think they should.
How much sleep do seniors need? A study recently published in Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation included recommendations from a panel of sleep experts about how much sleep people need, broken down by age groups.
As one would expect, newborns should sleep the most, from 14-17 hours each day. The number of hours needed decreases as children grow older—but teens, say the experts, still need from 8-10 hours of sleep each day. By contrast, people older than 65 only need 7-8 hours.
If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, practice good sleep hygiene. This includes keeping your bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature; avoiding caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime; getting enough exercise; and avoiding daytime napping. If sleep problems persist, talk to your doctor.
Lydia DonCarlos, PhD, a neuroendocrinologist from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, served as a member of the National Sleep Foundation expert panel that made the new recommendations. Says DonCarlos, “We still have a great deal to learn about the function of sleep. We know it’s restorative and important for memory consolidation. But we don’t know the details of what the function of sleep is, even though it is how we spend one-third of our lives.”