Sleep and aging: How sleep changes as you age and strategies to improve it

You find yourself wide awake after 5 hours of sleep and feel ready to get up and meet the challenges of the day. However, the rest of the neighbourhood is still sleeping. You wonder why it is that others need to sleep longer than you. The duration of our sleep may be of concern to some of us and begs the question: “how much sleep is 'normal' and how much do I need to be healthy. Although an apparently simple question, there is no simple answer!


Why is sleep so important as we age?

It is estimated that 1 in 2 Canadian adults struggle with falling or staying asleep. Not getting good quality sleep can be detrimental to our health and well-being. Poor sleep quality has the potential to increase the risk of developing anxiety, depression, suicidal behaviours, cognitive issues, physical impairments, heart disease, diabetes, and immune disorders.


How much sleep should I get in a night?

The actual amount of sleep a person needs to feel and think their best will vary across people.

Sleep duration typically changes with age and in general, decreases as we get older. While children tend to sleep between 9-10 hours, elderly adults average 7 hours or less. There is a great degree of variability in these estimates, though, and many people 'normally' sleep as little as 5 and as long as 9 hours per night. In addition to the amount of time that we sleep, there may be some changes with the quality of our sleep as we age; sleep generally becomes less efficient.


Should I use sleeping pills to help me sleep?

Drug-based strategies, including those that alter mood, thinking, and behaviour, are often the first line of treatment for sleep-related issues. ‘Sleeping pills’ are heavily used. However, non-drug treatment options should be explored first due to the safety implications of ‘sleeping pills’. Taking a closer look at your medications and lifestyle may also help identify issues that are impacting the quality and amount of sleep you are getting.

What non-drug strategies exist to help me sleep?

Music-based strategies are generally considered safe and may enhance sleep quality, as well as several components of sleep, such as sleep duration and efficiency. Research studies have shown music may enhance sleep quality, duration, efficiency, and daytime dysfunction.


To learn more about the importance of sleep as you age and strategies you can take to improve your sleep, read through our resources below.

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DISCLAIMER: Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of these blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website