Isn't it ironic that when we're kids, and our responsibilities are pretty much narrowed down to walking upright, we're able to get all the sleep our little hearts desire? But when we're adults, and juggling responsibilities left and right, good nights of sleep just seem to be few and far between. This doesn't mean that sleep becomes any less important as you grow older, however. No matter what stage of the game you’re in now, take a look at our rundown on how sleep needs change throughout our lives, as well as some great tips for getting the best sleep of your life—every night.
Along with needing a higher total of sleep than your average adult, the teenage sleep schedule is also quite different. In adolescence, our circadian rhythms are pushed far forward past the more stable rhythm that’s closely aligned with the regular twenty-four-hour cycle. This means that teens are much more likely to feel tired later (around eleven p.m.) and want to sleep in the next morning until nine or ten a.m.
As most teenagers can attest, this peculiar sleep schedule is often met with some resistance from parents and misunderstanding from older adults in general. Here are a few tips that’ll help teenagers get the best sleep possible:
- Communication is key during this time when your sleep schedule requires some debate and negotiation. It’s important to make sure you’re (tactfully) communicating to your parents that staying up later and needing to sleep in is a biological need, and it doesn’t stem from any poor choices on your part. Communication also goes both ways—parents, make sure to talk with your teen if you notice they're not getting as much sleep as they need.
- As much as it’s under your control, wake up and head to bed at the same time every day (even on weekends!), as this will help your body settle into a great pattern of sleepiness and alertness at just the right times.
As a young adult, your circadian rhythm is swinging back from the later teenage rhythm to a rhythm more closely aligned with the regular twenty-four-hour daily cycle. Of course, this doesn’t mean that your sleep at this point in life is in any way average.
To ensure better sleep even in your roaring twenties, here are a couple of good tips:
- Start making room in your schedule for sleep now. Your body’s health for the many years to come will thank you.
- Try not to get into the habit of depriving yourself of sleep during the week and using the weekend to feast on it. As good as it might feel to sleep in till noon on Sunday, maintaining consistent wake-up and sleep times is an essential part of good sleep hygiene.
- If you do tend to go out on the weekends and wouldn’t have it any other way, do try to find a “compromise” bedtime between the week and weekend for more consistent bedtimes—so maybe instead of 10:30 p.m. on the weekdays and 1:00 a.m. on the weekends, you shoot for a bedtime of 11:30 p.m. on both weekdays and weekends.
If you find yourself in your forties or fifties, it probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise that your sleep at this stage is not guaranteed to be as good as it was in your teenage and early adult years. This simply means that your sleep requires a little more TLC now than it did in years past:
- Maintain your sleep hygiene. Most important at this stage of the game? Making your bed a no-screens zone. Keep your work at work: you can’t get your best sleep when you’re staying up late to complete reports or lying in bed responding to emails. Reserve your bedtime only for sleep.
- As always, make sure and consult your doctor if your sleep is consistently poor, as this can have serious effects on your health both in the short- and long-term.
Older adults need just as much sleep as younger adults—it’s a fact. The sad reality, though, is that so many in this stage of life get used to making do with a small amount of sleep—and suffer the negative health effects of sleep deprivation all the while.
Here are a couple of steps that will help ensure you get the sleep you need during this time:
- Again: don’t underestimate the power of good sleep hygiene. Keeping up with a regular exercise schedule has been proven to raise the quality of your sleep, but it also does wonders for your health overall, keeping you fit and active.
- Due to their circadian rhythms being pushed back earlier, older adults tend to feel ready to turn in for the night sometime in the mid to late afternoon. Sleep scientist Matthew Walker in his book Why We Sleep tells us that, when older adults who wish to stay up later respond to this tiredness with a nap, they ruin their body’s ability to generate sleep later on that night. “Instead,” he tells us, “older adults who want to shift their bedtime to a later hour should get bright-light exposure in the late-afternoon hours.”
From the day we’re born, sleep adapts to meet the various needs of our bodies. It’s just as powerful when we’re young as when we’re old, and if you give it the chance, it’ll be there to back you up no matter what life throws at you. Looking for tips on how to get your whole family—kids and parents—sleeping better? Check our blog all about how to make sleep a family priority.