Aging and Sleep

Do you ever wonder why teenagers can sleep 12 hours a day and some adults cannot sleep past 7 a.m.? This is attributed to the body’s natural sleep changes that occur as we mature and age. As we age, it is common to experience increased difficulty with sleep. This is due to many different environmental factors as well as sleep hygiene. These factors include:

Internal Factors

  • Menopause can cause nighttime heat flashes
  • Increased likelihood of disruptive sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea
  • Increased body pains due to osteoarthritis or back injury
  • Psychological factors such as anxiety, stress and depression
  • The biological clock tends to shift back in older adults causing tiredness earlier in the evening and waking up earlier 1

External Factors

  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound
  • Use of medications that can impact sleep
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Retirement and less physical activity during the day

Many older adults report feeling drowsy during the day.


A good indication of aging affecting sleep is experiencing more fragmented sleep and difficulty staying asleep.  Many older adults report feeling drowsy during the day or fatigued when they have actually received the adequate amount of sleep. This is due to restless nights and fragmented sleep. 

The decline in stages three and four of sleep (deep sleep) and the increased stage one sleep. This is a major sign of age’s effect on sleep often beginning around age 35 to 45. 1 There has also been an observed decrease in sleep efficiency. Surprisingly, this decrease in deep sleep and sleep efficiency does not lead to sleeping longer. On average, individuals between ages 55 and 84 slept for 7 hours on weeknights and 7.1 hours on weekends. As compared to the hour difference in weeknight and weekend sleep for individuals 18 to 54. 2

Changing sleep needs due to the development of disorders and health issue can cause need for change in bed or mattress. Because sleep preferences also change as you age, ensuring that your sleep environment can compensate for your needed adjustment is very important. Purchasing a good quality adjustable mattress will allow you to adjust your bed to your changing preferences regarding mattress firmness as you age.

Overall, having good sleep hygiene and good overall health practices will help with age’s effect on sleep patterns. Many healthy adults may not experience difficulty sleeping as this difficulty is often linked to other sleep disorders or health problems. Taking into account the external and internal factors that affect sleep and sleep preferences as we age is the key to understanding what is necessary to give you the most restful night’s sleep possible.


1. Carskadon, Mary A. Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreaming. New York: Macmillan Pub., 1993.

2. National Sleep Foundation—Aging and Sleep;