SLEEP IN MIDLIFE AND OLD AGE

Sleep seems to be more problematic and disordered in older adults.


The effects of certain medications more commonly taken by older adults, together with coexisting medical conditions, result in older adults being less able, on average, to obtain as much sleep, or as restorative a sleep, as young adults.


That older adults simply need less sleep is a myth. Older adults appear to need just as much sleep as they do in midlife, but are simply less able to generate that (still necessary) sleep. Affirming this, large surveys demonstrate that despite getting less sleep, older adults reported needing, and indeed trying, to obtain just as much sleep as younger adults.


There are additional scientific findings supporting the fact that older adults still need a full night of sleep, just like young adults.

The core impairments of sleep that occur with aging


These three key changes are:

(1) reduced quantity/quality (2) reduced sleep efficiency (3) disrupted timing of sleep.


The postadolescent stabilization of deep-NREM sleep in your early twenties does not remain very stable for very long.

Soon, sooner than you may imagine or wish, comes a great sleep recession, with deep sleep being hit especially hard.

In contrast to REM sleep, which remains largely stable in midlife, the decline of deep NREM sleep is already under way by your late twenties and early thirties. As you enter your fourth decade of life, there is a palpable reduction in the electrical quantity and quality of that deep NREM sleep.


You obtain fewer hours of deep sleep, and those deep NREM brain waves become smaller, less powerful, and fewer in number.


Passing into your mid and late forties, age will have stripped you of 60 to 70 percent of the deep sleep you were enjoying as a young teenager. By the time you reach seventy years old, you will have lost 80 to 90 percent of your youthful deep sleep.

Certainly, when we sleep at night, and even when we wake in the morning, most of us do not have a good sense of our electrical sleep quality. Frequently this means that many seniors progress through their later years not fully realizing how degraded their deep-sleep quantity and quality have become.