Sleep and Age
As a general rule, people sleep more early in life than they do later in life. The frequency and duration of our sleep patterns change over time as well. Here’s a rundown of how sleep patterns change over time, and how to make the most of natural sleep tendencies.
Sleep Patterns in Infants and Toddlers
Babies sleep in spurts, averaging 16 to 20 hours of sleep per day, according to Harvard University’s Healthy Sleep site. Infants cycle between eating and sleeping throughout the day and night. As sleep patterns begin to coalesce between 4 months and 1 year, a baby may experience “day/night confusion,” in which the child has a tendency to stay awake more at night and to sleep more during the day.
By the time your little one has progressed from “infant” to “toddler,” he or she should be sleeping between nine and twelve hours per night and getting one or two naps during the day. The morning nap will phase out in the first year or two of life, while the need for afternoon sleep can continue into the early school years.
Sleep Patterns in Adolescents
Adolescents should sleep about 9 hours per night—though not all can. Adolescents’ natural circadian rhythm is different from that of adults or younger children. The brain chemistry that induces sleepiness is naturally delayed in teens, so that it’s not unusual for a person of this age to stay awake until midnight or 1:00 am before feeling ready for sleep. Unfortunately, most school schedules interrupt the 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep an adolescent needs to feel refreshed.
Sleep Patterns in Adults
Most grown-ups need about 8 hours of sleep per night to function well. After the adolescent years, 7 to 9 hours of nightly sleep is enough for most people. Some adults feel fully rested and alert on 7 hours of sleep, while others may regularly need 9 or more. Knowing your own needs and natural habits is the best solution to getting sound, refreshing sleep.
Older adults will generally sleep less than younger adults, due to changes in brain chemistry and sleep interruptions from physical ailments ranging from sleep disorders like restless legs syndrome or fibromyalgia to various biomedical conditions. Many older adults are thus chronically sleep deprived, and may not get the help they need because of the overriding cultural view that older people “just get less sleep.”
Contrary to popular belief, older adults can get quality sleep. Working with your body’s natural rhythms, avoiding bright light in the evening, and practicing other quality sleep hygiene habits can give you the edge you need to sleep better at night and feel better all day.