The Effects of Age on Sleep

Have you ever heard the phrase, “I slept like a baby”? Do we need less sleep as we age? Do teenagers really need more sleep than at any other age? I’ll be answering this and many other age/sleep related questions.


Our memories may not serve us well in the department of sleep needs for children. It’s probably been a long time since you were young, and if you haven’t had kids of your own recently, you might not realize how much our sleep habits change through the years. In particular, the time from birth through adolescence is tumultuous for sleep patterns.

Sleeping Like a Baby

Baby SleepingNewborns sleep between eleven and eighteen hours a day, but have no circadian clock yet, so sleep is sporadic, as is eating. Sleep periods last from a few minutes to a few hours.

The sleep periods start to lengthen after four weeks. The child’s circadian clock begins to operate, too, creating a more consistent pattern of sleep. By six months most babies are able to sleep through the night, much to the joy of their parents. Between six months and one year most infants sleep nine to twelve hours a night, with a number of naps throughout the day. No wonder we long to “sleep like a baby” sometimes.

You may be surprised to learn, however, that toddlers sleep more than babies – from twelve to fourteen hours a day, though they usually take just a single long nap of one to three hours.

Childhood and the Teen Years

After this, sleep begins to drop gradually. Preschoolers usually sleep eleven to thirteen hours, while grade schoolers tend to sleep between ten and eleven hours a night. Unfortunately, in grade school the pressure of schedules makes it difficult for many students to get enough sleep. Early wake-up times, school work, piano lessons, sports activities, television and video games all are factors that keep children from getting enough sleep at night.

Adolescents are even busier, yet they still need nine to ten hours of sleep. School starts even earlier, yet teens usually like to stay up later because that is when all the fun happens. Sports activities are more physically demanding, school work is more mentally demanding and their bodies are undergoing more changes than at any other time of life except infancy. Most teens get about seven and a half hours of sleep, and as a result their academics and sports both suffer because of it. Although it is not true that teens need more sleep than any other ages, it is probably true that teens as a group are more poorly rested than any other age group.


Finally, in the early twenties the sleep needs of adults stabilize. Sleep patterns between twenty and sixty change very slowly. However, good sleep gets harder and harder to achieve as a person ages. In particular,

  • It becomes harder to get to sleep at night, though only slightly.
  • Less sleep occurs. Twenty year olds tend to get about 7.5 hours, while at forty the average is only 7 hours. By sixty the average sleep plummets to only 6.2 hours. This is not because we need less sleep as we get older. It is simply harder to achieve the sleep we need. As a result there is an increase in naps as people age.
  • Light sleep (stages 1 and 2) make up a larger component of our sleep as we age. This means that the restorative quality of sleep diminishes in older folks.
  • Nighttime awakenings increase. Those age twenty typically spend about eighteen minutes awake during the night. This rises to forty-four minutes by age sixty.

Adult <a href=Napping in Hammock” width=”300″ height=”168″ />After age sixty the above changes continue to occur, even though there is no decrease in the need for sleep. In fact, overall health is more directly linked to sleep quality and quantity the older one gets.

The good news is that it is possible to get better sleep, and the ways good sleep is achieved remain the same throughout our lifetimes. The easiest changes to sleep habits often yield the best results. By following my best sleep tips you should see improvements in the quality and quantity of your sleep.

Happy Sleeping!


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