How Age Impacts Sleep: Understanding and Managing Sleep Changes in Older Adults

Aging brings about various changes in the body, including alterations in sleep patterns. As we grow older, the quality and duration of sleep often undergoes noticeable shifts. Understanding the impact of aging on sleep is crucial for addressing the unique sleep needs of older adults and promoting their overall health and well-being.

In this blog article, we delve into the relationship between age and sleep, explore common sleep issues faced by older adults, and provide helpful tips for better sleep in Australia’s aging population.

Why Does Aging Affect Sleep?

The internal clock of our body, known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), controls our circadian rhythms, regulating sleep-wake cycles. However, as people age, the SCN's function can deteriorate, disrupting the natural sleep patterns governed by circadian rhythms. This disruption can result in changes in sleep timing and alertness levels.

Insufficient exposure to daylight is another factor that can affect sleep in older adults. Research suggests that many older individuals do not receive enough natural light, which plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy circadian rhythms. Factors such as living in nursing homes or having conditions like Alzheimer's disease further limit their exposure to daylight.

Changes in hormone production, particularly melatonin, can also contribute to sleep disruptions. With age, the body produces less melatonin, which is responsible for promoting sleep and coordinating circadian rhythms.

Health Conditions and Sleep

Mental and physical health conditions often coexist with sleep problems in older adults. Conditions like depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic pain can interfere with sleep quality. Moreover, the side effects of medications commonly taken by older adults can also impact sleep patterns and exacerbate sleep issues.

Lifestyle and Sleep

Changes in lifestyle that accompany aging can affect sleep quality. Retirement often leads to a less structured sleep-wake schedule, while factors like loss of independence and social isolation can increase stress and anxiety, further contributing to sleep problems.

Common Sleep Issues in Older Adults

While sleep experiences vary among individuals, several sleep disturbances are commonly reported by older adults:

Shifting sleep schedule: Aging individuals may experience a phase advance, where their circadian rhythms shift forward in time. This can cause them to feel tired earlier in the day and wake up earlier in the morning.

Waking up at night: Changes in sleep architecture lead to spending more time in lighter sleep stages and less time in deeper, restorative stages. This can result in frequent awakenings during the night and fragmented sleep.

Longer recovery from sleep schedule changes: Older adults may find it challenging to adjust to sudden changes in sleep schedules, such as daylight saving time or travel-induced jet lag.

Daytime napping: While short daytime naps can be beneficial, excessive or late-day napping can interfere with nighttime sleep and exacerbate sleep disruptions.

Sleep Tips for Older Adults

Fortunately, there are steps older adults can take to improve their sleep quality:

Use the right sleep surface: Ensure that the mattress being used is suitable for your health needs. Whether you need pressure care, moulding memory foam, or simply a mattress that is the right feel and firmness for your weight and shape – it’s paramount that your mattress is helping you to get to sleep, not hindering it.

Correct support: The benefits of using an adjustable base to assist with are well known, varying from helping you to breathe easier with head elevation, or improve circulation and reduce swelling with the use of foot elevation and zero-gravity functions. To learn more about the specific functions and benefits of adjustable bases, please check out our other blog article here.

Exercise regularly: Engaging in regular physical activity has been shown to promote better sleep in older adults, helping them fall asleep faster and experience more restful sleep.

Reduce bedroom distractions: Eliminate electronic devices from the bedroom, keeping it reserved solely for sleep and intimacy. Avoid falling asleep with the television on, as bright lights can hinder sleep onset.

Avoid sleep-disrupting substances: Limit consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and large meals close to bedtime, as they can interfere with sleep quality. Quitting smoking can also positively impact sleep patterns.

Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Establish a consistent sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Be cautious about daytime napping, ensuring it doesn't interfere with nighttime sleep.

Develop a bedtime routine: Engage in relaxing activities before bed, such as taking a warm bath, reading, or engaging in a calming hobby to signal your body that it's time to wind down.

Safe Sleeping for Older Adults

To ensure a safe sleep environment, older adults should consider the following precautions:

Keep a phone by the bed: Place a phone on the nightstand, within easy reach, to facilitate calling for help if needed. Avoid using smartphones when possible, as excessive notifications and bright screens can disrupt sleep.

Accessible lighting: Many adjustable beds come with an under bed lighting feature, especially designed to help keep users safe. You can also install easily accessible lights, especially motion sensor lights, in hallways and bathrooms to reduce the risk of falls when getting out of bed during the night.

Minimise hazards: Avoid smoking in bed and eliminate potential trip hazards in the bedroom, such as rugs, cords, and furniture. Maintain a clear path from the bed to the door to prevent accidents.


Understanding the impact of aging on sleep is crucial for promoting healthy sleep habits in older adults. By recognising the changes in sleep patterns and implementing sleep hygiene practices, older individuals can enhance their sleep quality and overall well-being. With proper attention to sleep and a safe sleep environment, older adults can enjoy restorative nights and better health outcomes.