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How Much Sleep do Seniors Need?

Sleep. We all need it, but as we get older, knowing just how much sleep we need can change based on our bodies and medical history.

Generally, older people need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. However, a good night’s sleep can be different from one person to another. Especially considering that parts of the aging process can disrupt sleep. For some, less sleeping hours is fine, especially if a nap is taken during the day. For others, it’s more about improving the quality of sleep versus sleeping more.

Growing Old and How it Affects Sleep

We all have an internal clock in our brain known as the hypothalamus, which is made up of thousands of cells combining to create the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This small but crucial nucleus is responsible for controlling the circadian rhythms of many of our daily cycles such as letting us know when we are hungry, releasing hormones, regulating our emotions and letting us know when we are getting sleepy.

Like all things, the SCN ages along with its human, and when it does, the circadian rhythms are affected. The negative impact on hormone production is one of the things that result in disrupted sleep. As time passes, our bodies produce less melatonin, which is one of the hormones regulated by the nucleus.

When older adults do not receive adequate exposure to the sunlight it can also trigger negative reactions to the circadian rhythms. Light plays an important part in keeping the rhythms in sync.

Common Problems That Disrupt Sleep

Conditions affecting our physical and mental health also cause problems with sleeping. Common physical conditions include heart disease, arthritis, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and diabetes. Older individuals who are dealing with mental conditions such as anxiety and depression are also susceptible to disrupted sleep.

Resource: Seven Activities that are Good for Your Brain

Sleep can also be affected by adverse reactions to medication(s). According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly 40 percent of adults aged 65 and over are taking five-plus medications. Whether the medications are prescribed or over the counter, reactions such as insomnia at night or drowsiness during the day can result. Consult your medical professional about your medications and any problems with sleep you may be having.

Inactivity is another reason for lack of sleep. This is an issue retirees may experience since they are no longer working, which affects their daily routine. Being home can lead to frequent naps that deteriorate what use to be a structured sleep routine.

Other issues affecting sleep include:

  • Daytime napping
  • Waking during the night
  • Disrupted sleep schedule
  • Sleep changes

Daytime Napping

Taking a nap during the day is fine, however the National Sleep Foundation recommends napping for 20-30 minutes max. A shorter nap can improve alertness without affecting your sleep at night. Taking several naps or naps an hour or longer can lead to restless sleep during the night as well as making it difficult to fall asleep.

Waking During the Night

We all experience stages of sleep during the night. Seniors are more apt to spend time in the early part of the sleeping stages versus the end stages. This can lead to fragmented sleep time and the disruption of waking up frequently throughout the night.

Disrupted Sleep Schedule

One of the processes the circadian rhythms go through is called a phase advance. This phase in older adults, results in feeling tired early in the day and waking up earlier than usual each morning.

Sleep Changes

Sudden changes to the body’s regular routine such as daylight savings time can make it harder to adjust, which leads to disrupted sleep time.

Tips for Seniors to Sleep By

During the day, these tips can help secure a restful sleep.

  • Participate in activities to burn up energy that will tire you out. Do this in the morning to late afternoon allowing several hours in-between before going to bed.
  • Remember circadian rhythms respond to sunlight. Allow yourself some quality time in the sun so the cycle knows it is time to be awake.
  • If you can, try avoiding late afternoon naps and see if it improves sleep during the night.
  • Reduce your fluid intake at night to avoid multiple breaks to the bathroom.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages late in the evening.

When it is time to prepare for bed, keep these tips in mind.

  • A warm bath is soothing to the soul. The warm water will lower your body temperature, leading to a relaxed and tired feeling.
  • Take time to decompress. Create a quiet space where you can unwind about an hour before bedtime.
  • Make sure your bed is an oasis for sleeping not working, watching TV, being on a computer, or extended phone conversations.

Practicing many of these tips at the end of the day, can help ensure a peaceful slumber.

The Importance of Sleep for Seniors

Getting enough sleep is critical to health, from fall-prevention to lowering stress to improving concentration. Sleep also allows you to regenerate cells and recharge the body. By following some of these tips above, hopefully you’ll be able to find more restful nights.


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