Sleep Through the Decades

How sleep changes with age, once you're an adult.

From the WebMD Archives


It's Not Just You

You're not just imagining it: As you’ve gotten older, your sleep has probably become less satisfying and less restorative.

To some degree, that may be a part of the natural aging process, but it might also have something to do with your health overall.

“Deterioration in sleep follows general health to a closer degree than it does true chronological age,” Simpson says. “If we track people over time and ask them, ‘How’s your sleep?’ the degree to which it deteriorates or improves over time tends to mirror their overall health.”

Better Health, Better Sleep

As your health improves, your sleep improves -- and vice versa.

“There’s a strong bidirectional relationship between sleep and health,” Simpson says. “That’s particularly true of heart conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.”

The amount of sleep adults get in general has been declining over the past few years.

“If you look at the 1960s and 1970s, people reported average sleep times of 8-8.5 hours a night,” Simpson says. “Today, it’s much more likely to be 7-7.5 hours or less."

Chalk it up to the pace of modern life.

"We lead these frantic lives and we have busy jobs and kids and soccer practice," Simpson says. "Sleep is what tends to get left out, but that has a lot of ramifications for our overall health.”

Why Does Grandpa Nap All Day?

By the time we reach our senior years, we may have more time for sleep -- but once again, we’re not getting it.

There’s a general notion that the elderly need less sleep, but that may not be true, says Simpson, who’s just completed a review of the literature on sleep and aging.

“It turns out that they do get less sleep, but it’s not necessarily because they need less,” he says. “To some extent, their sleep is frustrated by all the issues of aging -- a bad hip, a sore back, heart trouble, a knee that’s out of whack.”

Older people also have a tendency to develop something called advanced sleep-phase syndrome, in which the whole rhythm of their circadian clock is off.