How Age Affects Your Circadian Rhythm
This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation
Your body goes through changes at every stage of life, and many of those changes affect sleep. In older people especially, problems such as difficulty falling and staying asleep are common, and sleep patterns also shift due to alterations in circadian rhythm. This is how it happens.
What Is Circadian Rhythm?
Circadian rhythm is the 24-hour internal clock that controls sleep-wake cycles as well as metabolism, cognition, and more. It uses clues such as light and darkness to help determine when it’s time to shift into sleep mode and when the body should wake up. It’s possible to have a circadian rhythm disorder that leads to trouble sleeping or causes poor-quality sleep.
Why Age Matters
Most people spend much of their lives with a circadian rhythm that ticks along at an even, healthy pace. Later in life, however, this internal clock can begin to lose its consistency. As a result, older adults sleep fewer hours. They often become tired earlier in the evening than they used to, while waking up earlier in the morning. They also may experience a decline in cognitive function during the evening.
How to Get Your Rhythm Back
Luckily, there are ways to help counteract age-related circadian rhythm changes. For older adults, it’s important to stick with a steady sleep routine, going to bed and waking up at the same time daily. It’s also a good idea to get outside and take a walk early in the day: Aerobic activity and sunlight exposure can help put the brain and body in “awake” mode. If you still find that your energy is dragging and you feel too tired to complete your regular activities—or if you notice these symptoms in a loved one—talk with your doctor about additional options for getting your sleep routine back on track.