Why are older people sleeping less?

There are a lot of changes our body goes through and one of the most oblivious of those changes is change in the sleeping pattern. Most people are envious of the peaceful and long sleep that babies have and it is true that as we get older our sleep cycle reduces and we sleep for barely 7 hours a day. Though sleeping patterns differ from person to person, but based on age some similarities can be noticed.

If we notice the track of sleeping patterns from infancy to adulthood, we will notice that there is a decline in the number of hours of sleep required. It is said that a newborn baby should be allowed to sleep for 14-17 hours a day and for infants between 4 to 11 months need at least 12-15 hours of sleep in a day. While toddlers and pre-school goers require 11-13 hours of sleep and from the age of 6 the sleep time starts decreasing and stabilizes around the age of 18, post which only 6-7 hours of sleep in a day is required to function.

It is very common for infants to sleep more than 12 hours because the majority of growth during these years happen during sleep, therefore the sleep requirement is related to the physiological process of the body and as we grow older or growth in physiological terms reduces which is why we require less sleep, but a minimum of seven hours of sleep is necessary for everyone, to maintain a healthy faculty. Because even though, after we reach adulthood the body doesn’t grow in height or size, it still needs to generate new cells, repair worn-out tissues, and perform other bodily functions that majorly happen during sleep. Other biological factors that affect sleep are circadian rhythms, or shifts in an internal “set point” for sleep need or the ability to sleep had remained unresolved.

This idea of sleep changes in a life span is very common and many complaints regarding insomnia have been recorded over the years, especially by older people. But we can’t pin the cause to just be the physiological need, there are other many changes that disrupt one’s sleeping pattern like changes in lifestyle or socio-economic factors.

In a study conducted by Klerman and Derk-Jan Dijk of the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, the set out to compare the sleeping patterns of young people, between the age of 18 to 23, and older people, between the age of 60 to 72. The study was conducted by giving both groups the same amount of sleeping time at both, night and day.

Through the study, they were able to observe that, when given the same amount of sleeping time, older people took a long time to fall asleep and also slept less. Both groups were given 16 hours a day to sleep, older people slept 1.5 hours less on average than younger people. Through this, they were also able to record that age-related decline in sleep also included an even split between rapid eye movement sleep, which is related to dreaming.

The study also advised the younger generation to sleep more, as it observed that when given the opportunity young people slept more than what their usual self-selected sleep time was. Klerman also said, “While humans can sometimes override the homeostatic set point and not sleep when tired, there is no evidence that they can sleep when they are not tired,” And if we look at the problems caused by lack of sleep, like accidents, errors and metabolic changes similar to diabetes; it is obvious that sleeping more can be beneficial for the youth.

This study can benefit in the treatment of insomnia in older people. The problem lies when older people think that they need more sleep than they can achieve, and then they complain of insomnia and go onto taking medications that are useless and can sometimes create more problems. If they are feeling tired during the day, the best way to handle is by evaluating for a sleep disorder that may be interrupting one’s sleep at night and leading to lethargy. Most of the time, for older people, the problem is psychological or disturbance in lifestyle, therefore a little effort in bringing life on track can help in a good night’s sleep.

Dr. Nikita Deshmukh of Apollo Clinic from Kondapur, Hyderabad says, “Sleeping patterns get disturbed because of our lifestyle. To get a good night’s sleep and ensure that you meet the daily 7-hour mark, you should eat early, sleep early and switch off that phone as soon as you go to bed.”

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