Many things change as you age and sleep is no exception. Both the nature and amount of sleep you need changes with age, with the biggest of these changes occurring during your early years.
By knowing how your sleep changes as you age, you’re given an early warning signal for any potential problems that may develop into insomnia if not properly dealt with.
In this article you’ll find out how much sleep each age group needs and the common problems they face that could become the cause of insomnia.
Sleep requirements by age
Below is a table showing the average amount of sleep required for each age group:
|Age||Average hours sleep required|
up to 18 hours
|Adults, including old age|
7–8 (+) hours
It’s important to note though that these numbers are just an average. The exact amount varies slightly person to person, but you can get a general idea.
Here’s a few tips for some of those tricky age groups where it can be common to experience a few problems with sleep:
Newborn babies need more rest than any age group, spending around 16 – 18 hours asleep per day.
Babies spend around 50% of their sleep in the REM stage, compared to 25% for adults, and pass directly into it as soon as they fall asleep. REM sleep isn’t fully understood but it is thought to aid the processing of information gained during the day. And for a baby, there is a heck of a lot of new information to process!
Their body clock takes around 6 months to properly develop, so their sleep pattern can be pretty irregular and unpredictable during this time. Be prepared to wake up once or twice during the night!
Once their body clock begins to set, a regular routine can be developed and night time feeds can be reduced until eventually stopped.
As they age, the amount of hours spent asleep gradually reduces. Daytime naps should also reduce before stopping altogether by the age of 3 to 4 years.
Good sleeping habits can and should be taught from an early age. Regular timing of sleep, optimising their sleep environment and encouraging good sleep habits provides them with the best possible start, preventing problems in both the short and long term future. See the Get Better Sleep series for more on this.
A common problem in toddlers is waking up in the night demanding attention. If this happens, try not to give them too much attention. Encourage them to sleep in their own bed and go to sleep without you. This sets the best possible example and encourages them to go back to sleep themselves without your help if they wake in the night. Providing your child with a soft toy creates what’s called a transitional object that provides them with emotional comfort and can be used to encourage them to get back to sleep on their own.
As with all ages, make sure they only go to bed when they’re sleepy (or at least should be sleepy!). Sending them to bed early causes them to clash with what’s called the forbidden zone, a natural peak in alertness that occurs just before you feel sleepy and go to bed. Trying to go to sleep at this time can be much harder and can cause you to negatively associate your bed with staying awake instead of being sound asleep.
Before puberty, sleep is often fine, no problems. As you enter puberty though, all hell breaks loose!
In your teenage years, your body clock changes so that you have the tendency to become more alert during the end of the day. Why? I haven’t got a clue, it’s like some cruel joke. That picture of a timer might as well be smashed into a million pieces, that’s what it feels like!
This can easily lead into delayed sleep phase syndrome, where your sleep pattern keeps getting pushed forward until you can no longer sleep until the early hours of the morning. Socialising into the night, commonly associated with part of growing up can cause it to get pushed forward even more.
To make things worse, the amount of hours sleep required each night increases to around 9 hours. This in addition to delayed sleep phase syndrome can cause very bad sleep deprivation if you need to get up in the morning. Which you do because on top of all this you have your high school exams to deal with throwing in an extra dose of anxiety into the mix.
While getting enough sleep can be much harder at this age, following good sleep habits as mentioned in the articles under the Get Better Sleep series can help keep your sleep on track during this shaky time.
As you get older, the quality of your sleep tends to reduce. This means you spend less time in the deeper stages of sleep and have a tendency to wake up more during the night.
Because of this, it can be beneficial to take a few naps during the day. These naps should be planned in advance however and stuck to each and every day. Unplanned naps messes up your sleep timing which can make things much worse.
Like with teenagers, your body clock also changes, but in completely the opposite way. Instead of staying up later, you’ll have the tendency to wake up and go to sleep earlier. This can put you at risk of advanced sleep phase syndrome if you’re not careful, where your sleep pattern gets pushed back further and further.
It’s common for older people to worry about how much sleep they’re getting. This worry can actually be a cause of insomnia. See the Sleep Mindset article for more on how to tackle this.
Resorting to sleeping pills can be seen as a tempting insomnia cure for some people, especially since doctors seem very happy to hand them out. But unless you’re using them for a short term fix or for a another good reason, there’s really no need for them. With regular sleep timing and good sleep habits, you can easily get the sleep you need and without the side effects!
Certain medication can actually harm your sleep. If you think your medication could be effecting your sleep, it’s best to consult your doctor who in most cases will be able to provide you with an alternative.
Taking mild exercise can be really beneficial to your sleep. It doesn’t need to be much, just taking a few more steps per day as part of your daily routine can really benefit your sleep.
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Apart from adulthood, where things reach relative normality, each age group has its own unique problems with sleep. Understanding these problems, particularly in advance, provides you with a good head start to fixing them since you already know what to expect.