As our bodies age and change, our circadian rhythms also shift. These “internal clocks” govern sleep, among other things, and partially determine whether we’re night owls or early birds. Most people find that they fall asleep and wake up earlier as they get older.
In addition, aging can bring along new health problems, many of which can affect our sleep patterns. Sleep is just as vital as food and water throughout all stages of life, and it plays a major role in memory and cognitive ability. So just how much sleep do you need in your 50s, and what can you do about the new sleep challenges you may be facing in this stage?
Sleep Requirements for Adults
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults, including people in their 50s, get seven to nine hours of sleep per night for optimum health. While ideal sleep quantity can vary greatly from person to person, with some people getting by just five on six hours and others feeling practically dysfunctional if they don’t get a solid eight hours, the NSF does not recommend less than six hours or more than 10 hours. However, the NSF recently added a new category to their sleep recommendation chart in light of findings that adults over the age of 65 need less sleep than their younger counterparts, so people at the tail-end of their 50s may find that they feel just as refreshed with less shut-eye than they once needed.
Should You Nap?
If you find yourself with flagging energy in the afternoon, a nap might be a better alternative to chugging coffee or soda. Stick to short catnaps--longer naps allow you to reach deep sleep stages, leaving you feeling groggy for up to an hour after waking. Time your naps for as early in the day as possible, and if you find that you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, you may have to cut out the daytime snoozing.
Common Causes of Sleep Problems in Your 50s
The average age for menopause is 51, and the hormonal changes that it brings can cause a host of sleep problems. Hot flashes can make it difficult to sleep through the night, and obstructive sleep apnea becomes more common in women after menopause. Further, more than 60 percent of postmenopausal women report insomnia symptoms.
Sleep apnea manifests as snoring and periods of breath stoppage during the night. This drastically reduces sleep quality because your body isn’t getting enough oxygen, and you’re waking dozens of times in the night, often without realizing it. Sleep apnea can put you at an increased risk for health problems such as cardiovascular disease, and it can sometimes be fatal.
We don’t sleep as deeply as we age, which means that disruptions we were once able to sleep through, such as a partner’s snoring, are now more likely to wake us up. Many people in their 50s find it difficult to fall back asleep and may spend several hours tossing and turning.
If you find yourself sleeping too much or too little, or if you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, talk to your physician. A referral to a sleep specialist may be in order. Uncovering the underlying cause of your sleep problems is a critical step in finding the right treatment, whether it’s therapy, meditation, medication, or even surgery.