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Sleep Throughout the Lifespan

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
In this lesson, how an individual's sleep changes is discussed. There is a list of how sleep times change from the time a person is an infant until they are over 60 and what factors affect how their sleep changes.

Sleep and Growing Older

The night would start fine for Erin. She would stay up no later than 10 PM and was able to fall asleep quickly. Unfortunately, she always woke up at least once per night, and many times it was more than once. During the day, she started feeling tired just after lunch and would become so exhausted that she needed a nap. When she was younger, she had no trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, but after retirement the sleep issues started. She started to wonder if her age, the medications she took, her arthritis or other causes were the reasons she just couldn't relax like she used to. She decided to talk to her doctor the next time she was scheduled to see her.

The Sleep Cycle

It is common knowledge that every person needs a certain amount of sleep so that the body can regain the energy it needs for the coming day. You may also know about circadian rhythm even if you are not sure what it is. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), circadian rhythms 'are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24 hour cycle responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism's environment.' This means that every living thing, plants and animals alike, have an up and a down cycle which is mainly focused on the amount of available light. People feel that they need sleep as light deceases and tend to feel awake with more light. But, this is not all that influences an individual's need for sleep. Age plays a very important role as well.

Another aspect of the sleep cycle is rapid eye movement (REM) versus non-REM (NREM) sleep. REM, or disorganized, sleep takes up about half of the sleep cycle for children under two years of age because it is during this part of the cycle that the brain develops (especially the cerebral cortex). After two years of age, people stay in REM mode only 20% of the time. NREM sleep is much more restful and organized, and it allows the body to regenerate.

How Sleep Needs Change

As a person ages, their body changes. This is true with every aspect of the individual. The brain grows and shrinks, the level of energy grows and recedes, hairlines change, and the amount of sleep needed to feel rested also fluctuates. It is the natural cycle of life.

  • When a child is born until they are approximately three months old, they need between 11 and 19 hours of sleep per 24-hour period.
  • Sleep needs decrease steadily from three months to 17 years, at which time they reach the normal adult range of about seven to nine hours required per night.
  • People older than 60 may actually be able to function well on as little as five hours of sleep per night, but this is rare. Most people will still require at least seven.

Environmental Factors Affecting Sleep

During a person's lifespan, there are also some common external, or environmental, factors that have a lot to do with how much sleep is needed. For example:

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