It was once thought that as you got older you needed more sleep; that it was perfectly normal for gran and gramps to supplement their nighttime sleep with additional naps during the day. But for the elderly sleeping should be around for the same time as when they became adults.

Sleep changes as you age

What does change as you age is the quality of sleep and the sleeping patterns so after about 50 for men and 60 for women there is a distinct decrease in the amount of delta or deep sleep which is where the cell growth and repair takes place as well as memory consolidation. The amount of time spent in bed may increase by as little as 30 minutes for someone aged 75 compared to someone aged 20. For the elderly sleeping is lighter so they are much more intolerable to the slightest of fluctuations and may have hundreds of micro awakenings in the night lasting for up to 15 seconds. The sleep in between the awakenings may go unnoticed so the older person trying to sleep may think that they have been awaken all night. Sometimes just the knowledge that you have actually got some sleep, and quite a decent amount in aggregate, is sufficient to be more relaxed about any perceived sleeping problems.

Sundowner's syndrome

The brain is always active and is hungry for stimulation and this does not change as we get older. For some people especially those with mild senility the need for this stimulation seems greater and though functioning and orientation during the day is okay when it comes to the end of the day with the decrease in stimulation that they can become confused and agitated. This is known as sundowner's syndrome.


By the time you're past retirement you may have incurred a serious number of pills that you take that have been prescribed by your doctor. The problem is that older people metabolize medications more slowly than someone 40 years younger so sleeping pills for instance that would dissipate over an eight-hour period of sleep may remain in the system causing daytime drowsiness and sedation. It may be a matter of the pills strength as well so taking pills that might have a very mild side effect of insomnia in a 30 year old old adult cause severe insomnia in a 70 year old.

Age is not an excuse for sleeping badly

If you are past middle age and you are generally in good health with little resort to medicines then you should not needlessly need to nap during the day and you should not be suffering from insomnia.

Stimulate the brain

If you do sleep poorly at night and have retired it's important not to sit around all day doing nothing with little or no stimulation during the day. The brain must continue to have challenges albeit less stressful ones than looking after a family and a job. It might seem like a luxury you could ill afford when getting up early every morning to go to work but sleeping in, in the morning is not a good idea if you are having problems sleeping at night and should be avoided otherwise you'll get into a vicious circle of getting up late and going to bed later and later.

How you should feel

Although there is no doubt there are some physiological changes that take place as you age that affect sleeping patterns and the type of sleep such as less deep sleep, the quality and amount of sleep will be normal for you if you wake up feeling refreshed and your daytime efficiency and alertness has not decreased from what it used to be.

For the elderly sleeping problems may manifest themselves as feeling drowsy and running on empty with little energy during the day so take stock of your daytime activities to make sure you are exercising your brain as well as your body. Also check with your doctor to make sure any medications you are on are not having an adverse affect on your effectiveness during the day which might then be causing nighttime sleeping problems.