Ask Dr. Nandi: Do you really need less sleep as you age?

Posted at 3:13 PM, Jul 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-13 17:33:20-04

As we all get older, many of us struggle with getting enough sleep. Are these changes a normal part of aging or is this just a popular misconception?

Do we really need less sleep as we age?

No, the answer is no. You do not need less sleep just because you’re now older. Many patients say to me, hey Doc, I just can’t sleep 7 or 8 hours a night, it’s not possible. And I understand their frustration because I can struggle with lack of sleep too. What can be confusing is that for many folks, your sleep ability decreases as you age. And you can really struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep compared to when you were younger. But just because you can’t sleep, doesn’t mean you need less sleep. 

There are lots of people who swear they only need 5 or 6 hours – how do you know if you need more?

Our bodies are great at adapting, and I’m not saying this a good thing. But you can get used to sleeping less and think that’s all you need. You may feel fine now but in the long run, lack of sleep can increase your risk for scary conditions like diabetes, heart disease, forgetfulness, and obesity. So the way for you to tell if you’re not sleeping enough is to look at how you feel – do you wake up tired or feel sleepy during the day? Are you moody or anxious or have difficulty concentrating? Do you feel your quality of life has been affected?  If so, then you’re likely not getting adequate sleep. 

Now you’ve talked about personally struggling with sleep, what do you do that’s helpful?

There are a couple of things that really work for me. The first is a nighttime routine. Falling asleep at the same time every night has really made a huge difference. And so has mediation and deep breathing exercises. Both of these can be done at night and are a great way to relax right before sleep and let go of any stress you’ve felt during the day.