Conditions That Affect Sleep as You Age


This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

While many people think sleep needs decrease with age, recommended sleep duration actually remains fairly constant with only a minor drop in the upper-end of the spectrum.  Still, for many adults age 65 and older, achieving the suggested seven to eight hours each night feels like a tall order.  If a full night’s sleep is elusive, it could be due to one of these medical conditions.


Older adults wake up throughout the night more often than any other age group.  These bouts of sleeplessness may be related to a change in circadian rhythm, which can cause people to feel sleepy in the early evening and alert in the early morning hours. Cutting back on caffeine consumption and nixing long daytime naps can help keep circadian rhythm on track. 

Snoring and Sleep Apnea 

Around 90 million Americans snore at night. While some occasional snoring may not be a major concern, loud snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where breathing becomes temporarily impaired and blood pressure rises.  Untreated OSA can significantly affect your sleep quality.  A doctor can help determine if an individual has OSA and offer appropriate treatment options since OSA is a risk factor for heart disease, headaches, and depression. 

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) 

The twitching and jerking of limbs during the night is no recipe for sleep. One in 10 adults have Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), and the chance of developing this disorder increases with age.  Certain medications that older adults take can also make RLS worse, including those prescribed for high blood pressure, heart conditions and depression. To mitigate RLS, a doctor may suggest cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, taking an iron supplement, and creating a targeted exercise regimen.  

Other Common Illnesses 

Asthma, diabetes, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can all negatively impact the ease of breathing, thereby making sleep more challenging for older adults. Diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis may have an impact as well.  However, healthy sleep habits can help mitigate these conditions’ negative impacts on sleep. These include maintaining a consistent sleep schedule,  exercising regularly, and getting exposure to light early in the day to help reset your body’s clock.