Sleep at all Ages

Every parent knows the importance of sleep – it seems you just can’t get enough of it! Pregnancy is a good introduction to this as an expectant mother’s sleep is often disturbed as they adjust to their changing body.

Sleep and Babies

Babies cannot manage with night-time sleep alone and need daytime naps, usually until their third year. They often sleep better in a noisy environment and movement, such as gentle rocking, that encourages sleep. It is not until the end of their first year that a child starts to adapt to the circadian rhythm and become ‘tuned’ to night and day.

Children and Adolescents

Children sleep longer and deeper than adults and are less sensitive to outside stimuli, such as light, noise and touch. Adolescents are affected by adjustments in their circadian rhythm and research has shown that they naturally sleep later and wake later in the morning. Lifestyle choices often mean they are depriving themselves of the 10-11 hours sleep they need. Lack of sleep can be one of the causes of behavioural problems, such as irritability and lethargy, which are often associated with this age group.


It is believed that most individuals need between 7-9 hours sleep, but this differs between individuals. Some healthy adults function well on 6 hours and others need up to 10 hours.

The number of hours’ sleep that an adult actually ‘achieves’ is often dictated by outside pressures, such as work and family. Many people are dissatisfied with the quality of their sleep and experience problems in getting to sleep, interrupted sleep and early waking.

Hormonal changes in pregnancy and during the menopause mean that many women experience sleep problems during these times.

Obesity, stress, illness, alcohol and other factors also affect adult sleep. An adult may also suffer short-term sleep disturbances if work and other demands affect their sleep pattern. Many adults are restricting the amount of hours they sleep and are suffering from lack of sleep. The health risks of lack of sleep often go unrecognised as sleep is often seen as ‘low priority’.

Older Adults

As people age they often find it difficult to sleep and accept this as part of the aging process. Older people often wake earlier and may take a short daytime nap to make up for any ‘sleep deficit’. Illness, pain, medication and lack of activity may also affect sleeping.

Although our sleep needs change during our lifetime, all ages need sleep for good mental and physical health. Short-term disruption is almost inevitable and most people experience problems in sleeping from time to time. Recognising the difference between an occasional bad night and long-term disruption may help us take steps to improve the quality of our sleep.