How Much Sleep Do Older Adults and Seniors Need?

How Sleeping Patterns Change as We Age: What's Normal and What's Not

senior man sleeping
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Many people find that their sleep patterns change as they get older. Perhaps you go to bed earlier or awake earlier. Maybe you have trouble falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep. To the contrary, some people may even sleep more as they age. But what falls in the normal range of sleep for older adults? Is there such a thing as sleeping too much?

Normal Sleeping Patterns for Seniors

Sleeping more than 12 hours per day is not considered "normal" beyond early childhood, so as a senior, it is well beyond the amount of required sleep to be healthy.

In fact, older adults typically need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, which is the same amount as younger adults. If you are sleeping or laying in bed for significantly more than 7 to 9 hours on a regular basis, it may be time to discuss the situation with your doctor.

How Sleep Patterns Change

When it comes to determining whether you are sleeping too much or too little, the first question is whether you are actually sleeping for all of those hours you spend in bed. For many people, while they may lay in bed for extended periods of time, the number of hours they spend asleep is much less.

It's known that our sleep patterns can change as we age. Older adults experience a progressive reduction in the deepest levels of sleep, while the lightest stages of sleep can almost double. This means seniors are more likely to awaken during the night and may only sleep 70 to 80 percent of the time they are in bed, according to a study published in the journal Applied Nursing Research.

What Research Says About Sleeping "Too Much"

The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society recently reported on the results of a seven-year study of the sleep patterns in more than 8,000 women aged 69 years and over. The study found that those who slept nine hours or more per day had an increased risk of death from all causes, except cancer.

Additionally, women who took a nap daily, whether they slept more or less than nine hours per day, were found to be equally at risk. 

What caused a higher risk of death? The researchers did not say that sleeping nine hours or more caused the increased risk of death. Instead, they believe excessive sleeping is possibly the result of frailty or poor health, and the issue needs further research.

Daily naps might be the cause or consequence of sleep problems and can indicate health issues, too, including:

  • Respiratory diseases
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Heart disease

How Health Concerns and Medications Affect Sleep

If you or your loved one is already suffering from poor health, those pre-existing conditions could be associated with sleep problems according to healthy aging information from the University of Washington. Common health issues known to cause sleep problems include:

Many drugs can also disturb your sleep. Even making small changes to your medications like changing the dose, or timing of the dose can cause a change in sleeping patterns.

Given that it is common for older adults and seniors to have chronic health conditions that require regular use of medications, it is highly likely that changing sleep patterns may be linked to those drugs. Be sure to discuss all of your regular medications with your doctor when discussing your concerns about sleep.

Sources

UCLA Health: Sleep Older

Evans, Barbra & Rogers, Ann. Applied Nursing Research: 24-Hour Sleep/Wake Patterns in Health Adults (1994).

Stone, Katie et al. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: Self-Reported Sleep and Nap Habits and Risk of Mortality in a Large Cohort of Older Women (2009).

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