How sleep changes as we age

Sleep is essential for your well-being. Learn how it changes as we age and the impact of sleep deprivation on brain health with insights from case studies.

Scientific Evidence*
Impact on Brain Health**
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These days, being busy has become somewhat of a badge of honour, and it seems that in our quest to do more each day, many of us are willing to sacrifice sleep in the process.

While we all know that sleep is important, many of us continue through on low sleep, accepting what we feel is merely a bit of tiredness.

Few people, however, are aware of the long-term damage occurring underneath the hood.

"Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain.

Professor Matt Walker, author of the bestselling book Why We Sleep

"Many people walk through their lives in an underslept state, not realizing it."

Firstly, how much should we really be sleeping?

The NHS recommends that adults sleep at least eight hours every night. However, many people fall short of the mark: a staggering two-thirds of all adults across all developed nations, in fact. 

In the UK, the average sleep time is just 6.8 hours, which isn’t really enough to keep our bodies and minds functioning properly. This kind of sums up the general national attitude to sleep - we sleepwalk through life, coasting on just enough sleep to get by, but not enough to truly thrive

You’ll know you’re sleeping enough if you:

  • Wake up naturally each day without a clock…
  • At roughly the same time…
  • Feeling refreshed and ready to conquer the day.

Sleep plays a crucial role in the proper functioning of the body, and the consequences of poor sleep are far-reaching.

There is also encouraging evidence to suggest sleep can reduce the risk or severity of cognitive decline as we age.

Even small disruptions to our sleep can cause havoc.

Older adults and sleeping

One of the biggest sleep myths out there is that we need less sleep as we age.

In actual fact, we need just as much sleep in our 50s, 60s and 70s, as we did in our 30s. However, the older we get, the more frequently we wake up throughout the night. 

The chief culprit is a weakened bladder, which can cause increased nighttime trips to the loo. If this resonates with you, it’s worth talking to your GP about potential treatments or lifestyle changes that can help.

Other culprits include hormonal changes, medical conditions and certain medications.

As we age, the importance of maintaining good sleep quality becomes increasingly crucial, as good sleep can help to combat the effects of ageing on the body. 

As sleep scientist Matthew Walker puts nicely:

Sleep is like clicking the “save” button

It protects all the new things you’ve learned that day against forgetting.

Sleep is an insurance policy against injury

During sleep, the body repairs and regenerates cells and tissues, which reduces the risk of injury.

REM sleep (when we dream) helps us separate our emotions from our experiences.

This allows us to learn and effectively remember important life events without being weighed down by the negative emotions they once caused.

Source: Why We Sleep Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams -  Matthew Walker


Good sleep provides a powerful boost to our mental wellbeing, helping us to maintain a positive outlook and sharp memory as we age. It’s also the bedrock for all other healthy habits.

And while ageing may bring about changes in our sleep patterns, it also gives us the chance to take stock and reflect on our sleep habits to make positive changes. 

Taking steps to improve our sleep quality is a huge investment in our overall health and wellbeing.

Next up, we’ll focus on what happens to the body when we don’t sleep, with some fascinating case studies. 

Learn more about the power of sleep! 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, make sure to download the Five Lives app today!

You can assess pivotal lifestyle factors regularly to identify patterns that lead to poor brain health, just as you would with regular blood monitoring, and track your daily lifestyle habits with our app. 

Let’s all work together to add life to your years. 

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How sleep changes as we age

Sleep is essential for your well-being. Learn how it changes as we age and the impact of sleep deprivation on brain health with insights from case studies.

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