Home / Blog September 19, 2023

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Why Do Old People Sleep So Much: Navigating the World of Senior ZzZs

Most older adults feel sleepier than usual due to boredom and exhaustion. Underlying medical and mental health conditions may also cause excessive sleepiness among older individuals. It helps to see a medical professional if the sleepiness persists and is accompanied with symptoms like brain fog.

Why Do Old People Sleep So Much - lady wrapping with weighted blanket


Lifestyle changes are the most common reasons behind excessive sleepiness among older adults.

Medical conditions like Alzheimer's disease and arthritis are also associated with increased sleep challenges among the elderly.

Consider visiting a medical facility for assessment of the extra sleepiness to rule out any underlying physical illnesses. 

Did you know?
As individuals age, they are more likely to become “morning people.”

Have you ever noticed that older adults tend to sleep more? Growing older can change the way we sleep, making it harder to get a good night's rest. This is why older people often tend to take naps during the day. But why does this happen?

There are several reasons. One significant issue is that when people retire, they may not have as many activities to occupy their day, leading to boredom and the need for napping. Health issues such as arthritis or dementia can also cause excessive fatigue and drowsiness during the day. Plus, some medications may have side effects that cause sleepiness in older individuals.

But there's more to it! Below, we will explore the science behind aging and sleep, and we will also discuss how to ensure that aging does not disrupt an older person’s sleep hygiene.

Why Do Old People Sleep So Much?

As people age, it becomes harder to get deep sleep. This means that older adults typically have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. Therefore, they tend to become sleepy during the day.

lady wrapped with bearaby cuddler

But there are other specific reasons that may explain why your older loved one may be sleeping more than usual. Below, we discuss some of them in detail:

1. Lifestyle Changes: Retirement, for instance, comes with less structure in the day of an older adult. This comes with a change in one's sleep habits, causing individuals to take more naps during the day. This effect is more likely to happen if someone becomes isolated or loses their sense of independence, e.g. due to decreased mobility.

2. Health Conditions: Issues like arthritis and dementia may contribute to sleeping problems among the elderly. You may watch out for excessive daytime napping and frequent awakenings at night. If you notice these signs, consider seeking the help of a medical professional for an assessment.

3. Surgery or Medical Operations: Some surgeries may cause a condition known as postoperative delirium among the elderly. Consider looking out for symptoms like agitation, hallucinations, and slurred speech, among others as you seek extra medical attention.

4. Side effects of Medication: According to a report from the National Institute of Health (NIH), approximately 39% of individuals aged 65 and above are taking five or more medications. Some of these medications have drowsiness as a side effect, which explains why some older individuals may be sleepier than usual.

5. Boredom & Exhaustion: Aging typically comes with a significant decrease in daily activities due to retirement, diseases, or social isolation. Because of this, older adults may find themselves bored a lot during the day, causing them to take more naps.

6. Mental-health Challenges: Issues like depression affect people of all ages, including the elderly. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that about 5% of older adults in community-living experience depression. If you believe that your older loved one may be struggling with depression, then you may want to look for signs and symptoms of depression among the elderly.

Why Does Aging Affect Sleep?

Aging has been associated with more unstable circadian rhythms. This means that the internal body clocks of an older person are less robust as those of a younger person. This change is probably what is causing you to wonder, “Why do old people sleep so much”?

The good news is that most age-related changes become stable after the age of 60, particularly for older adults with good health. If the newer changes are observed in an old person’s sleep habits, then it is important to check for underlying medical conditions. Further, you may also want to assess any other disruptions in their social environment or lifestyle.

How Does Getting Older Affect Sleep?

The aging process can bring about several changes in sleep patterns and quality. Based on a report from the National Institute of Health (NIH), here are the primary age-related sleep changes that older adults may experience:

i) Late Sleeping Hours: Older adults often find themselves going to bed and waking up later than they did when they were younger. This shift in sleep timing is a common age-related change

ii) Difficulty Falling Asleep: Falling asleep can become more challenging for older individuals, possibly due to changes in sleep regulation or the presence of medical conditions

iii) Decreased Slow Wave Sleep: Slow wave sleep, which is a deep, restorative stage of sleep, tends to decrease with age. This reduction can contribute to a sense of sleep fragmentation and less restful sleep.

iv) Shortened Night Sleep Duration: Older adults may experience shorter nighttime sleep durations, spending less time in bed during the night compared to when they were younger.

v) Increased Waking Up at Night: Age-related sleep changes can lead to more frequent awakenings during the night, disrupting sleep continuity. For instance, changes in bladder control can cause an older person to wake up at night for urination.

vi) Increased Daytime Napping: Older individuals may take daytime naps more frequently, potentially due to shorter nighttime sleep or changes in sleep architecture.

By recognizing these shifts in sleep patterns, individuals can take steps to optimize their sleep environment and adopt healthy sleep habits to enhance the quality of their sleep as they age.

What Medical Factors Could Affect An Older Person’s Sleep?

As we touched on earlier, there's a chance that certain medical conditions might be behind the daytime sleepiness many older adults experience. It's important to recognize that a range of factors can influence their sleep quality, so let's dive a bit deeper into this.

Here is a list of medical conditions and factors that could play a role in affecting an older person's sleep:

1. Alzheimer's Disease: Individuals with Alzheimer's disease often experience disruptions in their sleep patterns, including increased nighttime awakenings and daytime sleepiness.

2. Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with sleep, leading to disrupted sleep patterns and reduced sleep quality.

3. Changes in Circadian Rhythms: Aging can lead to shifts in the body's natural internal clock, causing some older individuals to fall asleep earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning.

4. Chronic Diseases: Long-term medical conditions like heart failure can disrupt sleep due to symptoms, discomfort, or the need for medication management.

5. Medications, Herbs, Supplements, and Recreational Drugs: Certain medications, herbal supplements, and recreational drugs may have side effects that affect sleep patterns or lead to insomnia.

6. Depression: Depression is a common cause of sleep problems across all age groups, and older adults are no exception. Symptoms of depression can include insomnia or oversleeping.

7. Brain and Nervous System Conditions: Various neurological conditions can contribute to sleep disturbances, such as restless leg syndrome, which can disrupt sleep with uncomfortable sensations in the legs.

8. Chronic Pain: Conditions like arthritis can cause chronic pain that can disrupt sleep, making it difficult for older individuals to fall asleep and stay asleep.

9. Stimulants: Consumption of stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime, can interfere with sleep by making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

10. Frequent Nighttime Urination: Conditions that affect bladder control or increased fluid intake before bedtime can result in frequent nighttime awakenings to urinate, disrupting sleep patterns.

So, the next time you find yourself asking, “Why do old people sleep so much?”, you may recall that these medical conditions might have something to do with your observations. Certainly, understanding these potential underlying factors is essential for addressing sleep issues in older individuals and providing them with the appropriate care and support to improve their sleep quality and overall well-being.

You may seek medical assistance in order to assess for the listed medical conditions, and more. You may also supplement an older person’s night routine with more calming practices in order to encourage their body to unwind and ease into more restorative sleep.

women peacefully sleeping with bearaby napper

What Is A Normal Amount Of Sleep For Older People?

You may be wondering, “How Much Sleep Do 90-year-olds Need?”. Well, let’s see what science has to offer on this topic:

According to the National Institute of Aging (NIA), the ideal amount of sleep for older adults falls within the range of 7 to 9 hours per night. Here's their rationale behind this recommendation: Encouraging sufficient sleep among the elderly is vital because a lack of adequate sleep can lead to a range of issues, including:

i) Irritability: Sleep deprivation can make older individuals more irritable, affecting their mood and overall well-being.

ii) Memory Issues: Inadequate sleep can impair cognitive function, potentially leading to memory problems and difficulties with concentration.

iii) Depression: Sleep disturbances are often linked to an increased risk of depression among older adults. Adequate sleep is essential for maintaining emotional health.

iv) Risk of Falls and Accidents: Sleep-deprived older individuals may experience reduced coordination and alertness, increasing their likelihood of experiencing falls or accidents.

How Do I Know If My Elderly Parent Is Sleeping Too Much?

Older adults still need roughly 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. However, because their sleep is typically interrupted by things like bladder-control issues and sleep apnea, it is recommended that they stick to the higher part of this window. This means that they will get to sleep more deeply and for longer periods of time at night, and eventually, this will lessen the likelihood of daytime sleepiness.

If your older loved one is getting around 8 hours of sleep every night and still sleeping during the day, then there may be something going on with them, so it helps to check to make sure that it is nothing serious such as other medical complications

What Other Sleep Issues Affect Older People?

According to a report from the National Institute of Health (NIH), a significant portion of the elderly population, ranging from 40 to 70 %, experiences chronic sleep disorders. Unfortunately, only about half of these individuals receive a formal diagnosis and the necessary attention for their sleep-related concerns.

Beyond the common problem of excessive daytime sleepiness, older adults can grapple with a range of other sleep-related disorders, each of which can significantly impact their overall quality of life. Here are some of these issues that warrant attention:

1. Insomnia: Insomnia is a persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to reduced sleep quality and duration. It's prevalent among the elderly and can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress, medical conditions, or medication side effects. Addressing insomnia is crucial to ensuring that older individuals enjoy restful and restorative sleep

2. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): RLS is characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs, often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations. This condition can disrupt sleep, making it challenging for older adults to achieve a peaceful and uninterrupted night's rest.

3. Sleep-Related Movement Disorders: Conditions like periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) involve repetitive movements of the legs or arms during sleep, causing frequent awakenings. These movements can lead to fragmented sleep and increased daytime fatigue.

4. Sleep Apnea: As previously mentioned, sleep apnea is common among older adults. It involves pauses in breathing during sleep, leading to oxygen deprivation and disrupted sleep patterns. Untreated sleep apnea not only contributes to daytime sleepiness but also poses serious health risks.

5. Circadian Rhythm Disorders: Changes in the body's internal clock can result in circadian rhythm disorders, causing misalignment between sleep-wake patterns and external cues. Older individuals may experience difficulties falling asleep at night and staying awake during the day, further complicating their sleep patterns.

6. Narcolepsy: Although less common in older adults, narcolepsy can still manifest later in life. It is characterized by sudden, uncontrollable episodes of sleepiness during the day, potentially leading to unintentional napping.

If you suspect that an elderly person is experiencing any of these sleep problems, seeking medical evaluation and intervention is essential to improving their sleep quality and overall health. By addressing these issues, you can help older individuals enjoy a more restful and fulfilling sleep experience as they age.

Why Is It Hard To Wake Up An Elderly Person?

Noticing that an older adult has difficulty waking up may lead you to wonder, “Why do old people sleep so much”? Understanding why it can be challenging to wake up an elderly person involves considering several factors that impact their sleep quality and morning alertness. Here are five possible explanations that delve deeper into this issue:

1. Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder affecting over 22 million Americans, including many elderly individuals. It disrupts one's sleep by causing intermittent pauses in breathing during the night, preventing deep and restorative sleep. Consequently, older adults with sleep apnea may struggle to wake up in the morning due to the inadequate rest they receive throughout the night.

2. Bladder-control Challenges: Aging often brings about difficulties in bladder control for older adults. Frequent nighttime awakenings to urinate interrupt their sleep pattern, leading to fragmented and less restful sleep. This constant interruption can make it harder for them to wake up in the morning because they remain fatigued from the sleep disruptions.

3. Vitamin and Minerals Deficiencies: Quality sleep depends on various nutrients like Vitamins D, E, and B, as well as minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium. Dietary changes, common among seniors, may result in deficiencies of these essential nutrients. This lack of proper nutrition can contribute to older adults finding it challenging to wake up refreshed in the morning.

4. Little to no exercise: Regular exercise can promote better sleep by inducing physical fatigue. However, older individuals may struggle to engage in physical activity due to age-related limitations. It’s crucial for older adults to make an effort to incorporate suitable levels of exercise into their routines, which can facilitate deeper and more restorative sleep. This ultimately makes it easier for them to awaken in the morning.

5. Discomfort: Physical discomfort during sleep, often caused by an unsuitable mattress or bedding, can hinder the quality of rest. Waking up still feeling tired due to discomfort can make it challenging for seniors to muster the energy to wake up in the morning

By addressing these underlying factors, you can improve the sleep quality and morning wakefulness of your elderly loved ones, enhancing their overall well-being and quality of life.

General Sleeping Tips for Older People:

In addition to maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, there are several practical recommendations that can significantly improve an older person’s sleep quality. Even more, the tips we share below will positively impact one’s overall wellbeing as they age:

  • Incorporate regular physical exercise into their daily routine to promote better sleep.
  • Enhance the sleep environment by minimizing distractions in the bedroom, creating a conducive space for quick and restful sleep.
  • Monitor and manage the consumption of substances that can disrupt nocturnal sleep, such as alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
  • Establish a calming bedtime routine that includes a window of relaxation or tranquility to ease the transition into sleep. 

Furthermore, here are some additional suggestions to foster safe sleeping habits, mitigating the risk of incidents like falls or accidents:

  • Keep an emergency phone within easy reach of the bedside, prioritizing safety over the use of smartphones.
  • Ensure there is adequate lighting nearby, such as a torch or lamp on a bedside table, to navigate the bedroom during the night.
  • Reduce potential hazards in the room, such as securing rugs, managing cords, and arranging stools, to create a safer sleeping environment. 

By implementing these strategies, you can contribute to your older loved one's well-being, fostering better sleep and minimizing potential safety concerns in their living space.

You may want to consider investing in a weighted blanket for improved sleep quality. Our Cotton Napper has even weight distribution which provides Deep Touch Pressure (DTP) when sleeping. DTP has been associated with an increase in the sleep hormone, melatonin as well as a decrease of cortisol, the stress hormone. This means that investing in a blanket like our Cotton Napper may help your older loved one have deeper and more restful sleep at night.

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If you notice your older loved one sleeping more, it could be due to various factors such as lifestyle changes, health conditions, or simply boredom. Whenever you suspect that issues like arthritis or dementia might be causing excessive daytime napping, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional. This way, you will be able to provide the appropriate assistance that will help them maintain a healthy sleep routine.

Otherwise, establishing a consistent sleep schedule can be beneficial in promoting healthy sleep habits for your older loved one. Consider introducing a weighted blanket, like our Cotton Napper, whose weight promotes the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. By using a weighted blanket, your older loved one will be able to get deeper sleep at night, so they will be less likely to take naps during the day.