Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Sleep Disorders Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Do Seniors Need Less Sleep?

No, but they may need a different kind of sleep.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature

When it comes to myths about sleep, this one refuses to nod off -- and stay asleep. Contrary to popular opinion, older people don't need less sleep than the average person. In fact, adults require about the same amount of sleep from their 20s into old age, although the number of hours per night varies from person to person. But many older adults get much less sleep than they need, for a variety of reasons.

Take Harry Gaertner, a 68-year-old retiree from Richardson, Texas. He remembers first being extremely tired and having difficulty sleeping six years ago. "I had to have 10 hours of sleep and an hour nap every day," he recalls. Gaertner's wife also noticed he was snoring heavily. A trip to the doctor resulted in a sleep apnea diagnosis and a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. But Gaertner says, "the machine didn't work, so that meant something else was wrong."

Recommended Related to Sleep Disorders

How to Sleep With a Snorer

By Ellie McGrath Love can be blind and, for a while, even deaf. I was somewhat aware that my husband-to-be had a snoring problem, but I didn't realize the extent until a friend he had traveled with presented us with an unusual wedding present: a black collar studded with little electrodes. Whenever my husband snored, he'd get a harmless electric shock that would wake him him up — with the goal of conditioning him to stop snoring altogether. After a few nights, though, my husband called for...

Read the How to Sleep With a Snorer article > >

A trip to the ER revealed what that something else was: Gaertner needed a pacemaker to correct his heart rhythm. He now has a guaranteed pulse of 60 beats per minute, which helps him sleep and breathe easier. But Gaertner's heart issues were only partially to blame for his restless nights. He still suffered from sleep apnea, so he resumed use of the CPAP machine and now dozes more comfortably than he has in years.

Sleep deprivation and seniors

Many older sleepers have sleep deprivation that is just as debilitating, if not as complex, as Gaertner's. "Insomnia is more common for seniors, partly because of health issues, partly because of the anxiety and the concerns of aging, and sometimes because of medication," says Jack Gardner, MD, a neurologist certified in sleep medicine at the Sleep Center at Baylor Medical Center in Waxahachie, Texas. Gardner adds that the likelihood of sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome also increases with age. Frequent urination and the pain from arthritis are more common, too, and rob sleep from seniors.

Another reason for senior snooze troubles lies in a big difference between younger and older sleepers: the timing of rest. As adults age, advanced sleep phase syndrome sets in, causing the body's internal clock to adjust to earlier bed and wakeup times. But some seniors continue to stay up late, as they did in their younger years. Sleep deprivation is often the result.

Bottom line: It's important to find the root cause of sleepless nights, especially if, as in Gaertner's case, sleep issues are masking deeper medical problems. "See your doctor if you're not getting restful sleep at night and are unable to wake up refreshed," Gardner says. "Healthy sleep is something one should expect at all ages."

Tips for getting more sleep

If you're having trouble sleeping, try these techniques for getting more shut-eye:

Get set. Wake up at the same hour every day and exercise and eat meals at set times to help get sleep back on track.

Get sun. No matter your age, daylight is extremely important because it helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle. Spend as much time as possible outdoors or near sunlight.

Get checked. Medication can interrupt sleep. A doctor can recommend adjusting the timing or dose, or possibly switching to an alternative prescription.

Reviewed on August 08, 2008

Today on WebMD

Alcohol Disrupting Your Sleep
Article
Sweating Evaluator
Article
 
Lavender sprig
Article
Always Sleepy Causes Fixes For Fat
Slideshow
 

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

How Many Hours Did You Sleep Last Night?
Is that amount of sleep typical for you?
Did you get enough sleep to feel alert today and function at your best?

Get the latest Sleep Disorders newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
0-6
7-8
9+

Your level is currently

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or other conditions affecting your sleep.

Sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping, have insomnia, or have other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep, since sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep because sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping or have insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's important to keep your bedtime and routine consistent every night and wake up around the same time every morning.

Click here to read more about the importance of sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep this amount, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep longer, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's also important to keep bedtime consistent and wake up around the same time every morning.

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and waking up at the same time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia, another sleep disorder, or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or another sleep disorder or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Effect of short sleep duration on daily activities--United States, 2005-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2011; 60:239.

Carskadon, MA, Dement, WC. Normal Human Sleep: An Overview. In: Principles and Practices of Sleep Medicine, Fifth, Kryger, MH, Roth, et al. (Eds), Elsevier Saunders, St. Louis, MO 2011. p.16.

Harvard University: "Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety."

Did You Know Lifestyle Choices
Impact Your Sleep?

Use the WebMD Sleep Tracker to track
your ZZZs over time.

Get Started

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Young woman sleeping
Quiz
The Truth About Naps
Video
 
child sitting in bed
Article
Woman with insomnia
Quiz
 
Sleep Specialists in Your Area

nurse sleeping
ARTICLE
Foods That Help Or Harm Your Sleep
SLIDESHOW
 
Insomnia 20 Tips For Better Sleep
Slideshow
Pain at Night
ARTICLE