Ensure your loved ones are getting enough quality sleep and learn what signs of restlessness can mean.

“Sleeping like a baby” may sound like a dream, but there’s nothing childish about getting enough rest. Yet as we age, getting the “right amount” of sleep sometimes comes with more questions than easy answers. Do adults really need eight hours of sleep? Can napping make up for a lack of sleep? Is it possible to sleep too much?                                                                

Experts at the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) say yes to all of these questions. In fact, a panel of experts brought together by the NSF in 2015 reviewed extensive research on sleep needs in order to arrive at more accurate answers. The panel found that, while sleep patterns change with age, adults 65 and older still need about seven to eight hours of sleep nightly — and ideally over a continuous period of time.

It’s important to note that this is still just an “ideal” range for older men and women. Some people might need slightly less or slightly more sleep to meet their individual needs. The real concern is for people who get significantly more or less sleep than what’s recommended and who still don’t feel rested or continue to live with health problems related to their sleep.

That’s because getting a lot more or a lot less sleep than what’s needed can contribute to

a range of other health concerns, including high blood pressure, obesity and even heart disease. Sleeping too little or too much may also be a sign of an undiagnosed health problem, such as a breathing disorder (like sleep apnea), depression or anxiety.

Disrupted sleep is common in older people and may take many forms. Sleep problems for an older person can spell trouble for other people, too. If you’re a caregiver, for example, you may find that your own sleep patterns are affected by looking after a friend or family member who has a hard time falling or staying asleep. This can be especially true if the person you look after lives with a condition that impacts mental health, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

If you or someone you care for is having trouble sleeping, it’s best to make an appointment to see a health care professional as soon as possible. Your health care provider will review your medical history, conduct a physical exam and possibly ask you to keep a sleep diary to paint a better picture of how you rest throughout the day and night. If your health care professional uncovers an underlying risk factor that impacts sleep, you can work together to develop a plan to address sleep problems and related health conditions.

We may not always be able to “sleep like a baby,” but with a little vigilance we can all take important steps toward sleep that supports healthy aging. For even more tips and information, visit HealthinAging.org.

Whether you’re an older adult or someone who cares for an older friend or family member, there are many lifestyle approaches you can follow to promote better sleep right away. For example:

  • Set the scene for sleep. Creating the right sleep environment is important. Avoid excitement before bedtime and try to keep your bedroom as peaceful as possible. Watching TV or using your tablet or smartphone right before bed isn’t a good idea either. Bright screens can keep you up.
  • Build a better sleep routine. Do your best to go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day. If you don’t fall asleep soon, try doing something relaxing, like reading, to help make you drowsy.
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Eating your last meal of the day at least three or more hours before bedtime might make for a more restful night. Avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol and tobacco too since these can disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • Exercise — it’s always a good health habit. Staying physically active helps some people sleep better. Just remember that it’s still important to avoid anything vigorous several hours before you turn in for the night
  • Be your own advocate. For caregivers in particular, it’s critical to stay on top of your own health and sleep patterns, even while you’re caring for a friend or family member. While caregivers are used to talking with health care providers about someone else’s well-being, they often don’t talk about their own. That can be a missed opportunity, especially since trouble sleeping can be a sign of caregiver stress. With help from a doctor, nurse, social worker or other professional, you can work to rebalance your caregiver responsibilities and perhaps even tap into resources you didn’t know were available.

Michael V. Vitiello, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science, Gerontology & Geriatrics, and Biobehavioral Nursing, Co- Director of Northwest Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Center (NW GWEC), and Editor-in-Chief (for the Americas), Sleep Medicine Reviews (SMR). He joined the staff of the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in 1983.