Sleep Throughout the Stages of Life

Reviewed Jan 19, 2017

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Summary

  • Your sleep habits and needs will shift as you age.
  • Insomnia can be a normal side effect of menopause.
  • Certain conditions can disrupt sleep.

Sleep is a crucial part of health and wellness. Many functions are carried out during sleep to protect the heart, balance hormones and strengthen the mind. What’s more, getting enough sleep helps lower stress and improve mood. It also helps you keep a healthy weight.

As you move through life’s stages, your health will change and your sleep needs may change, too. A new or stressful life event may also affect your sleep. For instance, new parents, especially moms, often feel like they never get enough sleep.

How much sleep do you need?

The question people ask most often is how much sleep is needed. There are general rules for different age groups.

  • Infants and children. For the youngest among us, sleep needs vary greatly. Newborns sleep up to 18 hours a day. Kids need less sleep as they grow.
  • Adults. By age 20, sleep needs level off at 7 to 9 hours. Experts recommend this amount for all adults.
  • Older adults. As people age, they often get less total sleep, yet they need the same amount of sleep as younger adults.

To find your ideal sleep amount, think about how you feel during the day. Some people feel rested and function well on 7 hours each night. Others struggle to feel alert with less than 9 hours each night.

Life events that affect sleep

Pregnancy

Pregnancy can be very tiring. But although you may sleep more in early pregnancy, sleep can suffer as your belly grows. It can be hard to get comfortable. This is especially true for women who are used to sleeping on their stomachs or backs, as doctors advise side sleeping. Getting comfortable is especially hard in late pregnancy. Other things can get in the way of sleep as well, such as:

  • Bathroom visits. Your body is making more urine while pregnant. Plus, the growing baby puts pressure on the bladder.
  • Higher heart rate. Your heart is working harder to pump more blood during pregnancy. This can make it harder to sleep.
  • Shortness of breath. Pregnancy hormones can make you breathe more deeply. You might feel like you have to work harder to get air. The growing baby also takes up more room, putting pressure on the muscle that sits just below your lungs.
  • Aches and pains. Your legs and back may be sore from carrying more weight.
  • Heartburn. Digestion is slower during pregnancy, so food stays in the stomach and bowels longer. This can cause heartburn at night.
  • Stress and dreams. Worries about the baby can make it hard to sleep. It is also common to have vivid dreams and nightmares during pregnancy.

Talk to your doctor about your sleep to make sure you can get the rest you need.

Menopause

Insomnia is when you can’t fall or stay asleep. It can be a normal side effect of menopause. Sometimes, it is caused by the discomfort of hot flashes, which also can occur before and with menopause. There are steps you can take to relieve hot flashes:

  • Skip foods before bed that may cause you to sweat, such as spicy food.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, and make sure there is good airflow.
  • Wear loose clothing to bed.

If your sleep is suffering, talk to your doctor. You will need to rule out other conditions, such as depression. The doctor may also offer certain medicines to help with menopause symptoms or sleep. Be sure to talk about the risks before taking any medicines.

New parenthood

Problem sleep often goes hand in hand with parenthood. Parents run ragged and then struggle to turn their minds off at night. This said, it is important not to accept poor sleep as the norm. Problem sleep can morph into insomnia. Feeling unrested can also make it harder to care for young children. Talk to a doctor if you have tried to relax and still can’t sleep or stay asleep.

Aging

Older adults also get less deep sleep. It is this deep sleep that strengthens memories. Experts have linked loss of deep sleep to trouble recalling things the next day. Research may point to ways to restore sleep to aid memory in older adults.

Illness

Illness can cause insomnia. Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety may be to blame. Neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s can also be a cause. Other things can harm sleep, too:

  • ongoing pain, such as arthritis or headaches
  • conditions that make breathing hard, such as heart failure and asthma
  • overactive thyroid
  • heartburn
  • stroke
  • restless leg syndrome and other sleep conditions

If you are dealing with a condition, talk to your doctor about your sleep, too. Keep in mind that, as you age, life events may dictate new sleep patterns and habits. Be sure to think about your daily routine as it changes. Knowing how you feel is your best first step toward better sleep at any age.

Resources

National Sleep Foundation
www.sleepfoundation.org

American Academy of Sleep Medicine
www.yoursleep.aasmnet.org

By Sarah Stone
Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/inso/causes.html and www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/sleep/healthysleepfs.pdf; National Sleep Foundation, http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need and http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/parenthood-sleep-deprivation; U.S. National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000559.htm, Cleveland Clinic, http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/Menopause/hic-menopause-and-sleep-concerns.aspx; News in Health, National Institutes of Health, http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/apr2013/feature2
Reviewed by Gary R. Proctor, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Your sleep habits and needs will shift as you age.
  • Insomnia can be a normal side effect of menopause.
  • Certain conditions can disrupt sleep.

Sleep is a crucial part of health and wellness. Many functions are carried out during sleep to protect the heart, balance hormones and strengthen the mind. What’s more, getting enough sleep helps lower stress and improve mood. It also helps you keep a healthy weight.

As you move through life’s stages, your health will change and your sleep needs may change, too. A new or stressful life event may also affect your sleep. For instance, new parents, especially moms, often feel like they never get enough sleep.

How much sleep do you need?

The question people ask most often is how much sleep is needed. There are general rules for different age groups.

  • Infants and children. For the youngest among us, sleep needs vary greatly. Newborns sleep up to 18 hours a day. Kids need less sleep as they grow.
  • Adults. By age 20, sleep needs level off at 7 to 9 hours. Experts recommend this amount for all adults.
  • Older adults. As people age, they often get less total sleep, yet they need the same amount of sleep as younger adults.

To find your ideal sleep amount, think about how you feel during the day. Some people feel rested and function well on 7 hours each night. Others struggle to feel alert with less than 9 hours each night.

Life events that affect sleep

Pregnancy

Pregnancy can be very tiring. But although you may sleep more in early pregnancy, sleep can suffer as your belly grows. It can be hard to get comfortable. This is especially true for women who are used to sleeping on their stomachs or backs, as doctors advise side sleeping. Getting comfortable is especially hard in late pregnancy. Other things can get in the way of sleep as well, such as:

  • Bathroom visits. Your body is making more urine while pregnant. Plus, the growing baby puts pressure on the bladder.
  • Higher heart rate. Your heart is working harder to pump more blood during pregnancy. This can make it harder to sleep.
  • Shortness of breath. Pregnancy hormones can make you breathe more deeply. You might feel like you have to work harder to get air. The growing baby also takes up more room, putting pressure on the muscle that sits just below your lungs.
  • Aches and pains. Your legs and back may be sore from carrying more weight.
  • Heartburn. Digestion is slower during pregnancy, so food stays in the stomach and bowels longer. This can cause heartburn at night.
  • Stress and dreams. Worries about the baby can make it hard to sleep. It is also common to have vivid dreams and nightmares during pregnancy.

Talk to your doctor about your sleep to make sure you can get the rest you need.

Menopause

Insomnia is when you can’t fall or stay asleep. It can be a normal side effect of menopause. Sometimes, it is caused by the discomfort of hot flashes, which also can occur before and with menopause. There are steps you can take to relieve hot flashes:

  • Skip foods before bed that may cause you to sweat, such as spicy food.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, and make sure there is good airflow.
  • Wear loose clothing to bed.

If your sleep is suffering, talk to your doctor. You will need to rule out other conditions, such as depression. The doctor may also offer certain medicines to help with menopause symptoms or sleep. Be sure to talk about the risks before taking any medicines.

New parenthood

Problem sleep often goes hand in hand with parenthood. Parents run ragged and then struggle to turn their minds off at night. This said, it is important not to accept poor sleep as the norm. Problem sleep can morph into insomnia. Feeling unrested can also make it harder to care for young children. Talk to a doctor if you have tried to relax and still can’t sleep or stay asleep.

Aging

Older adults also get less deep sleep. It is this deep sleep that strengthens memories. Experts have linked loss of deep sleep to trouble recalling things the next day. Research may point to ways to restore sleep to aid memory in older adults.

Illness

Illness can cause insomnia. Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety may be to blame. Neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s can also be a cause. Other things can harm sleep, too:

  • ongoing pain, such as arthritis or headaches
  • conditions that make breathing hard, such as heart failure and asthma
  • overactive thyroid
  • heartburn
  • stroke
  • restless leg syndrome and other sleep conditions

If you are dealing with a condition, talk to your doctor about your sleep, too. Keep in mind that, as you age, life events may dictate new sleep patterns and habits. Be sure to think about your daily routine as it changes. Knowing how you feel is your best first step toward better sleep at any age.

Resources

National Sleep Foundation
www.sleepfoundation.org

American Academy of Sleep Medicine
www.yoursleep.aasmnet.org

By Sarah Stone
Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/inso/causes.html and www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/sleep/healthysleepfs.pdf; National Sleep Foundation, http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need and http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/parenthood-sleep-deprivation; U.S. National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000559.htm, Cleveland Clinic, http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/Menopause/hic-menopause-and-sleep-concerns.aspx; News in Health, National Institutes of Health, http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/apr2013/feature2
Reviewed by Gary R. Proctor, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Your sleep habits and needs will shift as you age.
  • Insomnia can be a normal side effect of menopause.
  • Certain conditions can disrupt sleep.

Sleep is a crucial part of health and wellness. Many functions are carried out during sleep to protect the heart, balance hormones and strengthen the mind. What’s more, getting enough sleep helps lower stress and improve mood. It also helps you keep a healthy weight.

As you move through life’s stages, your health will change and your sleep needs may change, too. A new or stressful life event may also affect your sleep. For instance, new parents, especially moms, often feel like they never get enough sleep.

How much sleep do you need?

The question people ask most often is how much sleep is needed. There are general rules for different age groups.

  • Infants and children. For the youngest among us, sleep needs vary greatly. Newborns sleep up to 18 hours a day. Kids need less sleep as they grow.
  • Adults. By age 20, sleep needs level off at 7 to 9 hours. Experts recommend this amount for all adults.
  • Older adults. As people age, they often get less total sleep, yet they need the same amount of sleep as younger adults.

To find your ideal sleep amount, think about how you feel during the day. Some people feel rested and function well on 7 hours each night. Others struggle to feel alert with less than 9 hours each night.

Life events that affect sleep

Pregnancy

Pregnancy can be very tiring. But although you may sleep more in early pregnancy, sleep can suffer as your belly grows. It can be hard to get comfortable. This is especially true for women who are used to sleeping on their stomachs or backs, as doctors advise side sleeping. Getting comfortable is especially hard in late pregnancy. Other things can get in the way of sleep as well, such as:

  • Bathroom visits. Your body is making more urine while pregnant. Plus, the growing baby puts pressure on the bladder.
  • Higher heart rate. Your heart is working harder to pump more blood during pregnancy. This can make it harder to sleep.
  • Shortness of breath. Pregnancy hormones can make you breathe more deeply. You might feel like you have to work harder to get air. The growing baby also takes up more room, putting pressure on the muscle that sits just below your lungs.
  • Aches and pains. Your legs and back may be sore from carrying more weight.
  • Heartburn. Digestion is slower during pregnancy, so food stays in the stomach and bowels longer. This can cause heartburn at night.
  • Stress and dreams. Worries about the baby can make it hard to sleep. It is also common to have vivid dreams and nightmares during pregnancy.

Talk to your doctor about your sleep to make sure you can get the rest you need.

Menopause

Insomnia is when you can’t fall or stay asleep. It can be a normal side effect of menopause. Sometimes, it is caused by the discomfort of hot flashes, which also can occur before and with menopause. There are steps you can take to relieve hot flashes:

  • Skip foods before bed that may cause you to sweat, such as spicy food.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, and make sure there is good airflow.
  • Wear loose clothing to bed.

If your sleep is suffering, talk to your doctor. You will need to rule out other conditions, such as depression. The doctor may also offer certain medicines to help with menopause symptoms or sleep. Be sure to talk about the risks before taking any medicines.

New parenthood

Problem sleep often goes hand in hand with parenthood. Parents run ragged and then struggle to turn their minds off at night. This said, it is important not to accept poor sleep as the norm. Problem sleep can morph into insomnia. Feeling unrested can also make it harder to care for young children. Talk to a doctor if you have tried to relax and still can’t sleep or stay asleep.

Aging

Older adults also get less deep sleep. It is this deep sleep that strengthens memories. Experts have linked loss of deep sleep to trouble recalling things the next day. Research may point to ways to restore sleep to aid memory in older adults.

Illness

Illness can cause insomnia. Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety may be to blame. Neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s can also be a cause. Other things can harm sleep, too:

  • ongoing pain, such as arthritis or headaches
  • conditions that make breathing hard, such as heart failure and asthma
  • overactive thyroid
  • heartburn
  • stroke
  • restless leg syndrome and other sleep conditions

If you are dealing with a condition, talk to your doctor about your sleep, too. Keep in mind that, as you age, life events may dictate new sleep patterns and habits. Be sure to think about your daily routine as it changes. Knowing how you feel is your best first step toward better sleep at any age.

Resources

National Sleep Foundation
www.sleepfoundation.org

American Academy of Sleep Medicine
www.yoursleep.aasmnet.org

By Sarah Stone
Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/inso/causes.html and www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/sleep/healthysleepfs.pdf; National Sleep Foundation, http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need and http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/parenthood-sleep-deprivation; U.S. National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000559.htm, Cleveland Clinic, http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/Menopause/hic-menopause-and-sleep-concerns.aspx; News in Health, National Institutes of Health, http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/apr2013/feature2
Reviewed by Gary R. Proctor, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer, Beacon Health Options

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