How much sleep should you get each night as you age?

March 2023

Sleep is so important in our lives—it is needed for healthy functioning and our survival. Sleep impacts so many areas of our health that researchers feel they have yet to identify every touch point that is affected by our sleep patterns.

When we think about sleep, our first thoughts are how a lack of sleep can affect our moods, health, and well-being. But many studies have also looked at how sleep deprivation can affect public safety—the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was directly linked to inadequate sleep of the workers.

As we age, our sleep needs and sleep barriers shift. While you’ve probably heard the general advice to get 8 hours of sleep a night, there are subtle changes throughout the decades that are important to know. 

Why is sleep so important?

Healthy sleep has a positive impact on many aspects of our lives.

It serves a critical role in brain functions—without continuously getting a good night’s sleep, we can start to notice problems with our neurobehavioral, cognitive, and safety-related performance, mood regulation, memory consolidation, and even our pain management.

Sleep plays an important part in our systemic physiology as well. Poor sleep is linked to a higher BMI and an increase in appetite. Your cardiovascular systems are impacted by the quality of your sleep, as are your immune system and hormone function

When you struggle with the quality and the length of sleep each night, you are at a higher risk of several illnesses and diseases that impact your quality of life. Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, various cancers, depression, and obesity have all been linked to poor sleep habits.

Healthy sleep in adults has also been shown to have a positive impact on decreasing the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep helps to clear the brain of toxic metabolites, the presence of which has been linked to Alzheimer’s.

Overall, healthy sleep is directly linked to living a longer, healthier life. Therefore, it is extremely important to make sleep a priority throughout your life.

How much sleep do you need at any age?

Throughout our lives, our sleep needs go through some dramatic changes. As infants, we’re sleeping anywhere from 12 to 16 hours in 24 hours. As we age, our need for sleep gets smaller and smaller. By adulthood, the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guide recommends adults aged 18 to 60 sleep for 7-9 hours a night.

Newborn  0-3 months  14-17 hours
Infant 4-11 months 12-16 hours
Toddler 1-2 years 11-14 hours
Preschool 3-4 years 10-13 hours
School Age  5-13 years 9-11 hours
Teen 14-17 years 8-10 hours
Adult 18-64 years 7-9 hours
  64 years and older 7-8 hours

As you age, you may start to notice that your sleep becomes less restorative—this is a common complaint with people as they age. But don’t be too quick to chalk this up to the natural aging process. Studies suggest that it is much more likely that your overall health is the reason your sleep has started to go downhill.

Sleep conditions and other factors that impact sleep

1 of 4 Canadian adults is not getting enough sleep each night. What is holding 25% of the population back from getting enough sleep? There are a lot of factors that come into play, many of which are dependent on age.

Sleep quality

While the number of hours of sleep you get each night is important, so is the quality of that sleep. When your sleep is constantly interrupted and you’re waking frequently, 8 hours of sleep may not be as effective as 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

This can be a big issue for people as they get older, those that are pregnant, and parents with small children. But there are more things than just crying babies that keep adults up at night— frequent pain, bathroom trips, alcohol and caffeine consumption, and other sleep disruptions like noise and light can all have a negative impact on our overall sleep quality.

Sleep deprivation

If you are sleep deprived, you need more sleep to make up for your lack of sleep. In a real catch-22, you may have a hard time sleeping because you need more sleep. This is an issue that comes up a lot for new parents who are working through those early baby years.

Sleep-related conditions

There are a variety of sleep-related conditions that can impact the quality and quantity of sleep a person gets each night. Restless legs syndrome—a disease that causes an itching, crawling feeling in your legs—affects 5-10% of the adult population, and is markedly worse when you are inactive or sleeping.

Just over 6% of Canadian adults are diagnosed with sleep apnea—this condition is characterized by repetitive complete interruptions of sleep for at least 10 seconds. This diminishes the quality of sleep that a person can achieve. Older adults ages 60 to 70 are three times more likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Insomnia, narcolepsy, and parasomnias such as sleepwalking are other sleep disorders that can have an impact on your sleep. 

Other conditions

But it isn’t just sleeping conditions that can affect how you sleep. And in yet another catch-22, a lot of the conditions that impact your sleep are also causally related.

Depression, obesity, and diabetes can all impact the quality of sleep. Chronic stress and poor mental health negatively impact the quantity and quality of sleep.

Tips to improve your sleep no matter your age

What changes can you make in your life, at any age, to help you maintain healthy sleep? There are some small changes that you can make to your sleep hygiene that can lead to better sleep.

  • Set a sleep schedule and stick to it—get up and go to bed at the same time each day Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bed
  • As nice as a long afternoon nap sounds, don’t nap for more than 30 minutes 
  • Turn off the TV and your phone 30 minutes before bedtime
  • Make your bedroom your sleep sanctuary—don’t read, sleep, scroll on your phone or eat in bed. Your bedroom should be just for sleeping
  • Make healthy eating and regular exercise a part of your daily routine
  • Review your medications with your doctor regularly

Good sleep is within your reach and the benefits of healthy sleep habits will help you throughout the decades. 

Please always check with a medical professional to ensure these strategies are right for you.

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