Sleep Advice for Adults Over 60
How much sleep do I need?
Chances are you’ve heard the myth that as we get older, we don’t need as much sleep. However, according to the NHS, there is actually no firm proof that older people need less sleep. What scientists do agree on is that typically, people in their sixties and seventies tend to sleep less than those in their twenties. But that isn’t to say that we actually need less sleep – just that we find it more difficult to drop off and stay settled!
In fact, a 2008 study reported on by the NHS showed that people aged 60-72 sleep an average 1.5 hours less per night than those aged 18-32. Even so, the older participants of the study averaged 7.5 hours of sleep each night, placing them within the 7-9 recommended hours of sleep for most adults.
So how much snooze-time do you need? The key to determining whether you’re getting enough sleep is to ask yourself how you feel. Do you frequently feel fatigued? Do you wake in the morning feeling lethargic? These are key indicators that you may not be getting enough sleep and that it’s time to take action.
Common sleep problems in older adults
With the sleepless nights of parenting young children behind us, and the terrors of the teenage years out of the way too, you’d think that sleeping would get easier as we get older! But with those challenges out of the way, new barriers to getting a good night’s sleep often appear.
Some of the most common sleep problems in older adults include:
- Age-related insomnia
- Night sweats
- Sleep apnoea
What causes sleep problems in older adults?
Although many sleep conditions can be experienced by younger adults too, the common causes of sleep problems in older adults can be quite different. These include:
- Medication: Certain medications, such as anti-depressants, aspirin and specific cancer treatments can produce side effects such as night sweats and insomnia. The older we get, the more likely we are to be taking one or more forms of medication, increasing the likelihood that we’ll experience side effects that affect our sleep.
- Medical conditions: Conditions such as diabetes, sleep apnoea and certain types of cancer (particularly lymphoma) can cause night sweats or breathing difficulties that make it hard to sleep. Again, most of these conditions are more common in older people. You can learn more about cancer and night sweats in our Sleep Health & Advice hub.
- Post-menopausal symptoms: For some women, hormonal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats can continue even after they have been through the menopause. In particular, these symptoms can recur when decreasing or stopping HRT medication.
- Changing routines: If you’re recently retired, suddenly adapting to a new routine can affect your ability to sleep, particularly if you’re worried about how you’ll adapt to your new lifestyle.
How to alleviate your sleep issues
Here are some tips to help you combat sleep issues:
- Identify your triggers: Not sure what’s causing your sleep problems? Try keeping a sleep diary for a few weeks to identify common patterns. Use it to record details like the time you go to bed, when you wake up, and how many naps you take during the day, as well as the food and drink you consume in the hours before bed. You may even find it helpful to review this information with your GP or nurse.
- Get advice about medication: If you think your medication may be causing your sleep problems, speak with your GP or nurse about finding an alternative that may reduce or eliminate your side effects. However, it is important that you continue to take your current medication until your GP recommends otherwise.
- Watch what you eat: Certain foods, such as those that contain caffeine or alcohol, as well as foods that are very spicy, can cause night sweats or indigestion. By avoiding these food types in the hours before bed, you may be able to improve your sleep quality.
- Sleep in natural fibres: Avoid synthetic nightdresses and pyjamas in favour of those made from natural materials such as cotton or silk. These fibres are far more breathable, helping to keep you cooler and less clammy.
- Switch to wool bedding: It’s a little-known fact that wool has natural temperature-regulating properties, as well as having the ability to absorb moisture. This makes it the ideal filling for duvets, pillows, mattress protectors and mattresses, as it will help to keep you cool when you’re hot and warm when you’re not. It also absorbs moisture from your body and desorbs it into the atmosphere, keeping you cool and dry, not hot and clammy.
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