Over the the average person’s lifespan, the amount of time spent sleeping each day varies drastically. Newborns spend anywhere from 16 to 20 hours per day sleeping. Between the ages of one and four the amount of sleep we need decreases to 11 or 12 hours. The required sleep declines further as a person progresses through childhood, and entering adolescence we typically require roughly nine hours of sleep per 24-hour cycle to function at our physical and cognitive best. Adults through middle age typically need at least eight hours, and although the elderly require roughly the same, they may find it hard to acquire all eight of these hours in one block of time.
Additionally, our sleep patterns—the way in which we sleep and the degree to which we sleep—also change. A newborn’s sleep in incredibly sporadic. The need to eat and sleep are cyclical and frequent; one often begins where the other ends. After three to four months, we begin to develop more stable sleep patterns where we sleep for longer periods of time and sleep sounder.
Older infants and young children begin to sleep in what we more closely associate with adult sleep patterns, but still often require naps throughout the day to make up for lost sleep at night. By the age of six or seven, most children have stopped taking naps and their sleep patterns more or less resembles the ones they will have throughout adulthood.
Older adults, however, are typically less able than younger adults to maintain healthy sleep patterns and many seniors suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. This can result in elderly people nodding off during afternoon activities or requiring long afternoon naps to make up for lost sleep. It can even result in insomnia, with little to no sleep occurring during the nighttime hours.
In this day and age, with all of life’s competing obligations, it is often hard to get the recommended amount of sleep every day. One way to ensure that elderly family members are getting an adequate amount of sleep is to learn how the internal clock and sleep drive interact, and how that interaction can potentially limit the amount of good, restful hours of sleep they are able to experience. This can help you and your elderly family members devise strategies to ensure that sleep patterns are as close to normal as possible. This is important to maintaining a healthy quality of life, both physically and mentally.
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