Sleeping well is surprisingly hard, and different for each age. Most of my sleep advice tends to apply for every age, but here I want to be age-specific. For more information try reading here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
The age which defines our sleep is somewhat different from our biological age: it is based on our metabolism, melatonin levels and stress of our daily activities. If our sleep is bad, our productivity and creativity go down, we have a hard time focusing and making decisions – our life suffers. Probably around one-third of Americans do not sleep well. As humans, we simply did not evolve to the level of stress offered by modern existence. So we should not trust our instincts and learn to adapt.
Children need a lot of sleep
The smaller the child, the more sleep he needs. Up to 3 years old, the toddlers usually get a very organized sleep routine. Then they are expected to sleep like grown-ups, possibly with an extra nap during siesta time.
This extra nap around the noontime is pretty important, and we might want to practice it at any age. Unfortunately, as the children grow they start to allocate their noons for extracurricular activities and view sleep as a waste of time. This is a bad practice that sticks with us.
There are graphs of how much sleep an average person needs, and they go down from 12 hours per night around 3 years old to 7 hours per night around 18 years old. This evaluation is average. If there is a lot of learning or physical activity in the daily routine, it makes sense to sleep more than the recommended time.
Kids often want to stay away late at night or to wake up late in the morning. This messes up the inner clock. If there is a strict daily routine, sleep is easier and more effective.
Kids sleep extraordinary well, to the point that they do not wake up and wet their beds. As parents, we are annoyed by this mess and try to fight it. We could also envy such a deep sleep, as it is not forever.
Sleep is a good investment in your 20s
The next stage is around 20s and early 30s: before kids. This is the age of physical wellbeing. Youngsters can party all night and still study and work effectively.
While it is tempting to party all night, this messes up with the study and the sleep. College loans and arguably the most productive years in one’s life should not be wasted. These are the best years to acquire new skills, as well as make connections for the entire adult career.
I do not have the best advice. Some balance is needed. If you spend too much on sleep and study, you will not socialize sufficiently. The alternative is worse. Possibly it is effective to dedicate two days a week for socialization and 5 days a week for study. In any case, we need to sleep a lot more than most people sleep, and build up the knowledge gradually. Trying to fill in all the squandered time in a crazy sprint before an exam is common and not healthy.
The worst thing to do in 20s, is play with chemistry. A young liver can process effectively alcohol and coffee, sugar and nootropics, but we do not want to overstretch this ability. Alternating usage of uppers and downers can ruin the metabolism and the inner clock, building vicious cycles of dependence. While it is not realistic at this age to have a fixed daily routine, it is a good idea at least to strive for having such a routine.
Sleep is not a waste of time, it is the best investment: in long-term memory, health and tranquility. If you can supplement sleep with meditation, do that. Possibly this is something that is easier to practice during the advanced degree studies.
In 30s we do not get enough sleep
Having small children is stressful. The sleep is often interrupted by crying, feeding, wetting, and so on. Even the spouse that can sleep through the interruptions does not enjoy a good sleep.
This is also the time of career growth, and we are expected to spend most of our time working. Very few workplaces allow for a good nap during the work hours, and these hours tend to be crazy.
Say hello to coffee and chocolate and good-bye to your sleep, and possibly your meditation. Try to use coffee and chocolate without sugar and milk if you can. Go for clean stuff – not brownies or salties. Stay away from alcohol: you will probably be too tired anyway. The worst thing you can do for your sleep at this age is gaining weight, as most of us do.
It is possible to sleep more during the weekends, but this extra sleep does not fully compensate a bad sleep during the rest of the week. While people in this age are at the top of their ambition, it makes sense to look for less stressful jobs.
When we can sleep again, sleep gets harder
Around 40s and 50s sleep gets harder. We finally have enough time to sleep, only sleep is less refreshing than it used to be. Melatonin levels are lower as we age, messing up with the inner clock. The added weight makes breathing harder as we sleep.
This is a good time to get some high-tech support for our sleep. Physical activity or meditation is a blessing, especially before and after sleep. Quality beds with orthopedic mattresses and pillows will keep our backs from ruining. Probably, both spouses will start to snore, making each others’ sleep miserable. Maybe you should use devices to keep your jaw both against snoring and against teeth grinding. Also, consider taking melatonin supplements.
When the children are not very demanding and the job is stable we often ant some extra treats. During the midlife crisis, people try to relive their use, only in a more stupid and aggressive form. Be it sugar, alcohol or gaming, this is a bad age to experiment. Travels are actually fine, as long as you deal with the annoying jetlag.
It is a good time to start moonlighting projects, only it is best to do those projects during the weekend. We want to get as much sleep as we still can.
Aging up means waking up early
Elder adults often sleep in different rooms because kids left the house. So snoring spouses are less annoying. After some age, sleep is a blessing, and it is really appreciated. Food supplements and melatonin supplements should be practiced with two or three blood tests per year.
It is a good idea to wake up early if your body wants it. This is the best time to add physical activity to the routine, especially in the morning. One of the biggest challenges at that age is a purpose: we still need to step out of our comfort zone to be invigorated.
Having a pet is also a great idea. Pets slow down the heart rate and reduce stress. Their love is unconditional and they need attention.
Arts are also something to consider. They facilitate social communication, allow to deal with complex concerns and make life more esthetic.
We can have diaries at any age, but as we age up it gets easier to manage diaries. Sleep diaries and CBT-I (Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia) will be effective.
After the age of 60, marijuana should be considered. There is a controversy regarding possible damage below the age of 16, but above 60 marijuana is safer than the alternatives.
To sum up the medical part
As we age, our sleep cycles contain less deep, slow-wave sleep. We spend more time in the lighter stages of non-REM sleep. This is a gradual shift—research indicates that we lose deep sleep at a rate of about 2% a decade, up to age 60. In our 30s and early 40s, we often begin to experience restlessness, waking more easily and often at night, and feel less refreshed in the morning. It’s a good time to take a look at the natural supplements that promote sound sleep.
And the memory part
We need good sleep for focus and long-term retention. It is possible to supplement fewer hours of sleep with power naps and meditation, of longer sleep sessions during the weekend. Our sleep is one of our best investments.
When we are young our sleep is naturally good, and we should be careful not to mess up with it. As we grow older or heavier, we need to learn methods to sleep better.
I do not know if learning from headset during sleep or controlling lucid dreams have a negative effect on one’s sleep cycle. Possibly it is best to try these techniques when you are young.