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How Aging Affects Sleep

March 13, 2023

Poster for video Sleep and Aging with Brienne Miner, MD, MHS

Though it is often said that people need less sleep as they age, the current recommended sleep guidelines for all adult age groups are almost identical. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people between 18 and 64 should aim for seven or more hours of sleep a night; people 65 and older should get seven to eight hours each night.

Still, the sleep patterns of older people are impacted by multiple factors, from medical conditions to medications says Brienne Miner, MD, MHS, a Yale Medicine geriatric and sleep medicine specialist.

“Medical conditions can cause pain or other sleep-disruptive symptoms, or people can be on medications that could make them very sleepy during the day and make it hard for them to sleep at night,” Dr. Miner says. “Or, interestingly, those medications might cause or worsen an underlying sleep disorder.”

Given the many variables at play, anyone experiencing sleep issues as they age should talk with their doctor. Sometimes, correcting the issue involves simply adjusting some behaviors, Dr. Miner says.

“Those behaviors are what we mean when we talk about having good ‘sleep hygiene.’ They involve adhering to routines, such as going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning,” she says.

Additionally, it’s important to consider whether and how certain substances impact your sleep, Dr. Miner explains. “For instance, your body is not as good at metabolizing alcohol as you get older; you can't drink the same amount in your older age that you could when you were younger,” she says. “It’s the same with caffeine and nicotine. They can both make it hard to fall stay asleep.”

Yet another contributing factor to sleep problems is a lack of physical activity which, along with social isolation, can impact the quality of your sleep. “If you’re less physically active during the day, it can be more difficult to have a normal sleep/wake cycle. Plus, social interactions give important cues to our body to help us maintain a normal sleep and wake rhythm,” Dr. Miner says.

Many things can contribute to sleep problems as people age,, explains Dr. Miner. “The good news is that there are many treatment options that don’t involve taking yet another medication.”

In the video above, Dr. Miner discusses how sleep changes as we age.

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