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Sleep and ageing

Sleep and Ageing

There’s now overwhelming evidence establishing sleep as the cornerstone of good health. Put simply, it’s the fuel we need to feel our best. However, our relationship with sleep evolves throughout our lives, and this evolution can have cascading effects on our health.
The link between sleep and ageing is both fascinating and complex. Poor sleep can accelerate ageing, contributing to cognitive decline and chronic health conditions. Conversely, getting older can make achieving restful sleep harder, impacting sleep architecture and leading to sleep disorders like insomnia.
Here, we delve deeper into the intricate connection between sleep and ageing.

How does ageing affect sleep?

We all age differently, and the same holds true for our sleep patterns. Some people may continue to sleep soundly in old age, while others may struggle. Here are some of the ways sleep can change as you get older.

Waking up at night

As a part of the natural ageing process, people may notice changes in their sleep architecture – the cyclical progression through various sleep stages (1).
Older individuals tend to experience more time in the initial lighter stages of sleep and less time in the subsequent deeper stages. These changes may lead to increased night-time awakenings and less restful sleep overall.

Daytime napping

Older people may also be inclined to nap more. Evidence has shown around 25 per cent of older individuals take naps, as opposed to 8 per cent of younger people (2).
Although sleep experts agree a short daytime nap can support energy levels and brain function, extended napping, especially later in the day, can delay sleep onset at night and may even contribute to insomnia.

Shifting sleep schedule

As we age, our chronotypes – natural preferences for wakefulness and sleep – can shift slightly forward. This means older adults may feel tired earlier in the afternoon and wake up earlier in the morning.


Aches and pains are common with age and can often interfere with sleep. Moreover, physical discomfort and sleeplessness typically exist in a vicious cycle: less sleep can lead to more pain, and more pain can lead to less sleep.

Night-time urination

Night-time urination – also known as nocturia – tends to get worse with age due to physical changes in the urinary system, which contributes to sleep disruptions.

REM sleep behaviour disorder

REM sleep behaviour disorder – a condition in which you physically act out dreams –generally affects older people and is known to fragment sleep.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

Older individuals are more likely to develop restless legs syndrome (RLS) which causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs and commonly leads to insomnia (3).


For women, menopause can also disrupt sleep. Hormonal imbalances, coupled with other menopause-related factors like anxiety and stress, commonly contribute to insomnia. The addition of night sweats, caused by sudden temperature spikes, can make sleep quality even worse.
You can learn more about supporting menopausal health on our dedicated Health Hub.

Do you need less sleep as you get older?

It’s a widely held myth that sleep needs diminish with age. The truth is, we still require around 7-9 hours every night throughout adulthood. However, the changes to sleep that often happen with age can make it harder to get enough quality rest as you get older.

Does sleep affect ageing?

Just as ageing can affect sleep, so too can sleep – or, more specifically, poor sleep – affect ageing.

Sleep deprivation and chronic diseases in older adults

Sleep is essential for the growth and renewal of every physiological system in the body. Inadequate sleep, therefore, can leave you vulnerable to chronic diseases and health concerns.
A study on older adults showed that even one night of poor sleep can make adults’ cells age quickly (3). While this may not sound too alarming in the short term, these effects are insidious and have the potential to trigger chronic health conditions in the long term.

Inadequate sleep and visible signs of ageing

Poor sleep doesn’t just affect the internal mechanics of the body; it can lead to visible signs of ageing, too.
Sleep is critical for keeping skin healthy, vital and youthful. Unsurprisingly, then, chronic sleep deprivation is associated with skin ageing, diminished skin barrier function, and lower overall satisfaction with appearance.
One study found good sleepers had considerably lower intrinsic sign ageing scores (5). They also reported significantly better perceptions of their appearance and physical attractiveness when compared to poor sleepers.

Poor sleep and cognitive decline

Perhaps most concerning is that poor sleep is often associated with cognitive decline and memory issues. After all, sleep is a tonic for brain health, playing an instrumental role in cognitive function, mental acuity, and emotional regulation.
Studies suggest people who sleep less than four hours a night are more likely to struggle with their learning, thinking, and recall (6). Another study draws on the link between sleep deprivation and age-related cognitive decline, noting inadequate sleep can increase the risk of neurodegenerative conditions by 20 per cent (7).

How to support sleep as you get older

While it may be a little harder to achieve optimal rest as you get older, there are still plenty of ways to improve your sleep hygiene.

Establish a consistent sleep schedule

Consistency is essential for regulating your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. With this in mind, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

Create a healthy sleep environment

Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep: keep it cool, dark, and quiet. You may also want to consider investing in a comfortable mattress and pillows, as well as cosy bed linen.

Move more

Exercising has long been associated with better sleep, so try moving regularly. However, it’s worth avoiding vigorous exercise close to bedtime as it may interfere with sleep.

Take care with sleep-disrupting substances

Try to reduce or eliminate your alcohol and nicotine intake, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime, as these substances are known to reduce sleep quality. Equally, consider having any caffeine before midday so it won’t disrupt your sleep. 

Try relaxation techniques

Practising relaxation techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga, can help manage stress, which might otherwise impact sleep. 

Shorten naps

Keeping your naps short – typically around 20 to 30 minutes – can support rejuvenation without disrupting your nightly sleep patterns. And if you like to nap, try to snooze before 2pm.

Avoid drinking fluids too close to bed

To avoid nocturnal trips to the bathroom, consider reducing your fluid intake in the hour or two leading up to bedtime.

Consider your nutrition

Your nutrition remains important as you get older – not just for your sleep, but for your overall health. Ensuring a plentiful intake of the following nutrients can help support your sleep.


A multivitamin is a convenient way to ensure you are getting a spread of nutrients to support overall health. If you’re looking to specifically support sleep health, choose a multi with the following nutrients.

B vitamins

Many B vitamins support normal psychological function, including vitamins B1 and B12, and nervous system function – namely, vitamins B2, B3, B6, and B7 – all of which are essential for sleep.
Although you can find these B vitamins in fish, poultry, meat, eggs, green leafy vegetables, beans, and peas, you may want to take a comprehensive B complex to cover any nutritional shortfalls. 


Involved in over 300 biochemical processes, magnesium contributes to normal psychological, nervous system, and muscle function, which is why it’s often recommended for sleep.
You can find magnesium in whole grains, dark chocolate, nuts, and seeds. Still, you may wish to take a high-strength supplement to cover any nutritional shortfalls.


PEA is an endocannabinoid-like compound naturally produced when cells are damaged or threatened. It's a well-researched alternative to CBD and is often recommended to support sleep.

Griffonia seed extract

Griffonia seed extract contains 5 HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan), the natural compound produced from the amino acid tryptophan. The brain converts 5 HTP into serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter, which influences sleep.

Theanine and lemon balm (melissa)

An amino acid found in green and black tea, l-theanine is best known for its calming and soothing qualities. It’s often taken with lemon balm (melissa) to support rest and relaxation.

Tart cherry juice

Packed with powerful antioxidants called anthocyanidins, tart cherry juice is a popular choice for sleep.


Valerian root is a traditional herb used for the temporary relief of sleep disturbances and mild anxiety.

Find out more

If you found this piece on sleep and ageing useful, you can delve deeper into similar insights on our dedicated Sleep Health Hub. Alternatively, please get in touch with our team of expert Nutrition Advisors, who are on hand to provide free, confidential advice via email, phone, and Live Chat.*

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  1. Tatineny P, Shafi F, Gohar A, Bhat A. (2020) "Sleep in the Elderly." Mo Med. 117(5):490-495.

  2. Monk, T. H., Buysse, D. J., Carrier, J., Billy, B. D., & Rose, L. R. (2001) "Effects of afternoon 'siesta' naps on sleep, alertness, performance, and circadian rhythms in the elderly." Sleep. 24(6):680–687.

  3. Hornyak, M., & Trenkwalder, C. (2004) "Restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder in the elderly." Journal of psychosomatic research. 56(5):543–548.

  4. American Academy of Sleep Medicine – Association for Sleep Clinicians and Researchers (2015) "Partial sleep deprivation linked to biological aging in older adults." Available online:

  5. Oyetakin-White P, Suggs A, Koo B, Matsui MS, Yarosh D, Cooper KD, Baron ED. (2015) "Does poor sleep quality affect skin ageing?" Clin Exp Dermatol. 40(1):17-22.

  6. Oyetakin-White P, Suggs A, Koo B, Matsui MS, Yarosh D, Cooper KD, Baron ED. (2015) "Does poor sleep quality affect skin ageing?" Clin Exp Dermatol. 40(1):17-22.

  7. Ma Y, Liang L, Zheng F, Shi L, Zhong B, Xie W. (2020) "Association Between Sleep Duration and Cognitive Decline." JAMA Netw Open. 3(9):e2013573.

  8. Shi L, Chen SJ, Ma MY, Bao YP, Han Y, Wang YM, Shi J, Vitiello MV, Lu L. (2018) "Sleep disturbances increase the risk of dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Sleep Med Rev. 40:4-16.


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Our Author - Olivia Salter


Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.

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