Throughout our lives, we’re told that older people need little sleep. We see it as children: grandparents have catnaps during the day or while watching TV and yet always wake up long before the dawn. As we age, many of us might be surprised to find that we don’t start needing less sleep. We might think we are different from our wakeful peers. But, the fact is, this strange and persistent myth is just that: a myth.
The National Sleep Foundation explained, “Sleep patterns change as we age, the amount of sleep we need generally does not.” We might get less sleep at night, but we make up for it by drowsing during the evening news!
As a society we are having more and more trouble sleeping — between electronics, schedules so hectic that we don’t have time to exercise, being inside and missing out on daylight that regulates our circadian rhythm and drinking caffeine in the forms of coffee, tea and soda — it’s not surprising more of us don’t sleep enough. Studies have shown that adults 26-64 need seven to nine hours of sleep and adults above 65 need seven to eight. If you find sleeping hard, you might want to start planning ahead. If you know that you are an early riser and will be up by 4:30 no matter what, start getting into bed around eight to get a full eight hours. If you’re someone who nods off once the hum of the TV starts, count that toward your sleep and don’t stress out if you get less shut-eye in bed.
Sleep not only rests your body, easing aches, it also clears plaque from your brain, helping your cognition. This may be why researchers have seen a link between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, a lack of sleep can impact your mood and mentality — making you depressed and causing you to enjoy daily activities less. Being drowsy impacts your reaction time and makes you more prone to accidents.
This myth can be unhealthy, not just for our mental perception but for our physical wellbeing. If we believe that as adults, we only need five hours of sleep, we tend to ignore problems — thinking them to be age-related. If you are concerned about consistent sleepiness or any other signs of sleep troubles — like apnea, snoring or leg cramps, speak to your doctor. Aging doesn’t explain sleep problems. Your sleep is essential, no matter your age.