Importance of Sleep as you age

Importance of Sleep as you age

February is upon us once again, and although its title of shortest month is never disputed, this year we get to observe that rare extra day that comes with the leap year.  

As February is the final full month of winter, many people will opt to stay huddled up and warm – only coming out for a valentines' day celebration if your situation allows. With cozy spaces and warm homes being center stage for many people's February, sleep might be the primary activity of most people this month. With the daylight-saving time change coming down the line next month in March, we here at Noble Companion figured this February would be an ideal time to make a post about the importance of sleep - especially for adults! 


Changes in sleep as you age 

Intertwined in the bundle of changes that people experience as they grow older are differences in sleep patterns. Even though it is largely believed that people need less sleep as they grow older, this is not the case, so understanding the changes in your sleep routine can help you be prepared to handle them as they happen, instead of waiting too long and having to face the consequences of sleep debt. 

1.) Changes to the circadian rhythm: The circadian rhythm is the human body’s natural process of waking up to the light and going to sleep in the dark. Historically regulated by night and day, this process of sleep regulation stays fairly consistent after someone reaches adulthood; however, changes are common as a person grows out of adulthood and enters old age. These changes are caused by physical and hormonal changes in the region of the brain responsible for regulating the circadian rhythm, so if you’re finding it more difficult to adhere to the same sleep routine you’ve always followed, you might want to speak with your doctor about supplements and activities that can help your brain maintain its circadian rhythm. 

2.) Health conditions: A long list of health conditions can lead to changes in sleep as you age. Conditions that become more common as you age and affect sleep can include anxiety, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. Furthermore, certain medications used to treat these conditions can also interfere with sleep, so if you’re finding changes in your ability to sleep starting to appear, it might be wise to speak with your doctor or pharmacist and work out a plan to help stabilize your sleep patterns. 

3.) Lifestyle: Of course, one of the more obvious factors playing into sleep changes is your lifestyle. As people shift from a life of strict routine, waking up for work at the same time each day, and falling asleep at the same time each night every week, week after week; to a lifestyle with more free time, it can be easy to fall out of a good sleep routine. Even though you should enjoy life on your own terms after you’ve retired from the workforce, it’s important to keep a healthy sleep routine as part of your lifestyle. This way you’ll be able to enjoy all the things you want while staying healthy, happy, and alert at the same time! 


Sleep debt 

It is said that there exists “good debt” and “bad debt” that a person can carry in their lives. In terms of finance, good/bad debt is largely subjective, but in terms of sleep, debt is ALWAYS bad. It is so important to understand sleep debt, its consequences, and its payment plan, so that when we all lose an hour of sleep next month, we won’t end up paying outrageous penalties.  

1.) 7+ hours/night: Everybody has slightly different needs when it comes to sleep, but study after study shows that 7-9 hours of sleep per night is a hard rule for staying healthy and free from sleep debt. Sadly, naps do not count toward these 7-9 hours, so if you’re a frequent daytime napper, make sure to keep it brief so that you won’t struggle getting to sleep at your normal bedtime. 

2.) Risky business: Expanding on the negative side effects that come from accumulating sleep debt, there are a litany of long-term health problems that you’re more likely to wind up dealing with because of inadequate sleep. Of course, lack of concentration, emotional volatility, and changes to appetite are the first side effects people will notice as their sleep debt accumulates, but in the long run, sleep debt increases your odds of developing diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. So, before you decide to watch one more 80-minute episode of your favorite binge-worthy program, consider the risk/reward ratio that comes along with your decision. 

3.) High interest rates: Just like credit cards, sleep debt comes with high interest rates. No, there is not a 1 to 1 repayment plan for sleep, instead, missing one hour of sleep (as we all will next month), requires more than one hour of extra sleep to return to baseline. These high interest rates can make catching up on sleep and returning to baseline very difficult, and eventually, your body will start to dictate when your payment is due, taking away your control over your sleep situation until you’ve paid off some of the accumulated debt. 


Good Clean Sleep 

Growing up, one of the first things people are taught is how to practice good hygiene. Washing your hands, showering, cleaning your clothes and personal space, all these activities are crucial toward living a healthy life, but just as important as personal hygiene is sleep hygiene! 

1.) Adhere to a time: The best tool in maintaining good sleep hygiene is discipline. Following a strict sleep/wake regiment is a guaranteed way to keep a regular schedule and stay healthy but this isn’t always possible. On days where you find it's not possible to follow a predetermined regiment for sleep, it would be wise to gradually work your way back toward the schedule you had been ascribed to before the disruption. This might mean recognizing 15-minute time intervals as you work your way back to a standard sleep pattern. What you shouldn’t do is let one late/early night change your entire routine ongoing, as this will interfere with your body’s circadian rhythm and make it more difficult to rebuild a structured sleep schedule in the future. 

2.) Reserve the bedroom for sleep: Who doesn’t love breakfast in bed, or laying down after a long day to watch a movie with your partner before hitting the hay? Though alluring, the science behind sleep suggests that activities performed in bed directly influence sleep patterns in a negative way. Experts in the field of sleep science have made one thing clear; save the bedroom for sleep! Though it might not be apparent, partaking in other activities while in bed causes your body to associate your bedroom with non-sleep behaviors. This association can be hard to break, so if you’ve grown accustomed to activities in bed, now might be a good time to make moves toward breaking those habits.  

3.) A little restraint goes a long way: Just to reiterate the importance of self-restraint in the pursuit of a healthy sleep schedule, utilizing willpower to get yourself into bed at a certain time, keeping the movies to the living room, and eating meals in the dining room are all little changes that you can work on which come together to produce a more healthy sleep regiment. Before you know it, these little acts of discipline will combine, and you’ll find yourself with more energy, clearer mentation, better mood, and countless more positive effects. 


Though routine, the upcoming loss of an hour of sleep due to “springing forward” should be something you consider and plan for.  

While one night likely won’t result in any health issues beyond a case of the grumpies, losing an hour of sleep is still something our body takes notice of. As winter drudges on, the urge to spend excessive amounts of time sleeping rears its ugly head, but don’t be deterred! Start practicing some of these sleep hygiene tips now, and by the time Spring arrives, you’ll have more energy, better mental functioning, and find the need for caffeine every morning starting to subside.   




Sleep Foundation "Aging and Sleep" 

Sleep Foundation "Sleep Debt" 

PubMed Study 

NCOA Sleep and Weight 

National Institute on Aging 

Harvard study on Aging and Sleep