New Sleep Code Gets Elderly Out of Bed

Many older Australians spend more time in bed than they need to, according to sleep experts who are now armed with the first-ever science-based guidelines for sleep length.

The National Sleep Foundation, America's leading authority on sleep, has published its inaugural age-specific recommended sleep durations based on a rigorous, systematic review of the world scientific literature.

The new sleep code, based on a review of 312 studies from the last decade, has been adopted by Australia's national sleep health advocate, the Sleep Health Foundation.

The foundation's sleep psychologist Professor Dorothy Bruck says it's exciting to be able to offer Australians new guidelines based on hard evidence.

"People are endlessly interested in how much sleep they should be getting each night, even though what the individual feels they need often varies a lot from person to person," Prof Bruck says. "We are now armed with some clear, science-based sleep times that many people will find interesting and reassuring."

The guidelines, published this week in the journal Sleep Health, recommend the vast majority of people - those aged 18 to 64 - get 7-9 hours sleep a night, the same amount as previously promoted.

The US experts found that newborns should be getting 14-17 hours sleep a day, a narrower range than the previously recommended 12-18 hours.

Infants should sleep 12-15 hours (a change from 14-15 hours), toddlers 11-14 hours (a change from 12-14) and pre-schoolers 10-13 hours (a change from 11-13).

School children are now deemed okay on as little as 9 hours sleep (now 9-11 hours, before 10-11 hours) while teenagers should get anything from 8 to 10 hours (a change from 8.5-9.5 hours).

Prof Bruck says one of the most interesting changes is seen among those aged 65 and over.

Until now, the official guide has recommended all adults get 7-9 hours sleep, but now older adults are advised to get just 7 or 8 hours shut-eye daily.

She said in her experience many older people, particularly those reporting insomnia, spend too long in bed. That's because as you age your body clock tends to prefer that you go to bed earlier, but many seniors still expect to wake up at the same time they used to when they were younger.

The Sleep Health Foundation's 2013 survey of sleep habits confirms this, with nearly a third of those aged over 65 complaining of waking too early and 40% saying that wake up a lot during the night.

"Many older people are spending 10 hours in bed and possibly fretting that they should be sleeping that whole time," the researcher says.

This trend is reflected in a newly-published Victoria University study led by Prof Bruck that found Australians of all ages have an unrealistic idea of sleep, believing wrongly that healthy sleep should involve no awakenings at night.

"We know that it is quite normal at all ages to wake up several times during the night, and older adults are more likely to wake more often. The important thing is to realise that this is normal and not worry about it. "

"These new guidelines can give many older people the confidence to know they don't have a sleep problem. It's simply that they just don't require as much sleep as they used to need in middle age."

For those frustrated by their early waking, the Sleep Health Foundation recommends trying a few weeks of going to bed several hours later, so they are in bed a maximum of 7-8 hours.

"That will help consolidate sleep and dramatically cut back time spent thrashing about in bed feeling like you should be asleep," Prof Bruck says.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

  • Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Pre-schoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

(New guidelines published by the US-based National Sleep Foundation)

For more information and interview requests, contact on (02) 8814 8655.