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How much sleep does a 72 year old woman need?

As we age, our sleep patterns and needs tend to change. By the time women reach their 70s, they may notice that they are sleeping less deeply and waking up more frequently throughout the night. However, sleep remains just as critical to health and wellbeing in older adulthood. Getting enough high-quality sleep can help support cognitive function, emotional health, immune system function, and more. So how much sleep should a 72 year old woman aim for each night?

Sleep Requirements for Older Adults

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults over 65 years old get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. However, many older adults tend to sleep less than this recommended amount. Studies show that adults over 65 average just 6-7 hours of sleep per night. While some seniors may feel they need less sleep, most experts recommend aiming for 7-9 hours nightly. Getting less than 7 hours on a regular basis can impair cognitive function and increase risk for chronic health issues.

Some key factors influence how much sleep seniors need:

Health Conditions

Underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and respiratory disorders can all impact sleep. Conditions that cause pain or discomfort make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Treatment of health conditions can improve sleep.


Many medications commonly used by older adults, including blood pressure medications, decongestants, steroids, and antidepressants, can interfere with sleep. Doctors should carefully evaluate the effects medications have on sleep and adjust dosages or timing if needed.

Circadian Rhythm Changes

As we age, our circadian rhythms shift, causing many seniors to feel drowsy earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. Exposure to natural daylight in the mornings and evenings helps synchronize circadian rhythms. Avoiding bright electronic screens before bed also helps.

Increased Nighttime Awakenings

Older adults often sleep more lightly and awaken more often during the night for various reasons like pain or needing to use the bathroom. While night awakenings are normal, staying asleep becomes harder. On average, seniors wake 3-4 times per night compared to just 1-2 times for younger adults.

Despite more frequent awakenings at night, the National Institute on Aging confirms that seniors do need about the same total amount of sleep as younger adults. Getting 7-8 hours of sleep through the night, along with napping as needed, can help prevent daytime fatigue and sleepiness.

Changes in Sleep Patterns with Age

Not only does the amount of sleep change with age, sleep patterns and sleep structure also transform. Brain waves and sleep cycles undergo changes that can affect sleep quality. Key changes include:

Decreased Slow Wave Sleep

Slow wave sleep is the deepest, most restorative stage of non-REM sleep. It rejuvenates the body and plays a key role in immune function, metabolism, and cognition. Slow wave sleep decreases significantly with age. Older adults spend just 10-20% of the night in slow wave sleep compared to 20-25% for younger adults.

Increased Light Sleep

While slow wave sleep decreases, light sleep tends to increase with age. Older adults spend over half the night in stage 1 and 2 light sleep. Frequent nighttime awakenings lead to more time spent in light stages. Light sleep leaves seniors less rested in the morning.

Shifts in REM Sleep

REM sleep is when dreams occur and memories consolidate. The amount of time spent in REM sleep generally remains steady from middle age through the 70s and 80s. However, REM quality and timing changes. REM cycles happen earlier in the night and may not last as long. Disruptions to REM sleep can impair memory, learning, and mood regulation.

More Early Morning Awakenings

Many seniors wake early in the morning and struggle to fall back asleep. Waking 30-60 minutes earlier than desired is common with aging. Exposure to early morning sunlight and adhering to a regular sleep-wake cycle both help sync circadian rhythms to combat early wakening.

Increased Daytime Napping

Daytime napping tends to increase with age. Older adults nap more frequently and nap for longer periods than younger adults. Naps average about 1-2 hours. Napping helps make up for lost sleep at night but can make it harder to sleep at night if naps happen late in the day. The best naps occur early in the afternoon.

Tips for Better Sleep Over 70

Seniors can make changes to their daily routines and sleep environment to support high-quality, restorative sleep:

Maintain a Regular Sleep-Wake Cycle

Going to bed and waking up at consistent times reinforces the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Try to keep bed and wake times within 1-2 hours even on weekends. Exposure to sunlight in the mornings also helps signal wake time.

Make the Bedroom Restful

Keep the bedroom comfortable, dark, and quiet. Upgrade the mattress and bedding to maximize comfort. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask to block early morning light. Ear plugs or white noise help dampen disruptive noises. Keep devices like TVs and computers out of the bedroom.

Establish a Soothing Bedtime Routine

Relaxing activities before bed like light reading, gentle yoga, or taking a warm bath help transition both the mind and body into sleep mode. Steer clear of stimulating activities like pay bills or intense exercise in the evenings.

Limit Daytime Napping

While napping can help supplement nighttime sleep, long or late daytime naps may interfere with the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Take naps early in the day and limit to 30 minutes. If experiencing significant daytime sleepiness, try to focus on improving nighttime sleep first.

Evaluate Medications

Talk to doctors about potential medication adjustments if drugs are disrupting sleep. Taking medications earlier in the day or switching formulations can help in some cases. Never stop prescription medications without consulting a physician.

Get Regular Exercise

Moderate aerobic exercise during the day helps promote good sleep. However, avoid vigorous workouts within 3 hours of bedtime as exercise can be stimulating. Low-impact exercises like yoga, tai chi, or light walking in the evenings can help relax the body before bed.

Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol both interfere with quality sleep. Avoid coffee, tea, soda, chocolate and other caffeinated foods after 2 pm. Limit alcohol, which can disrupt REM sleep cycles. Drink plenty of water during the day but limit fluids 2-3 hours before bed to prevent nighttime bathroom trips.

Wind Down Before Bed

Spend 30-60 minutes unwinding before bed away from bright screens. Dim the lights to help boost melatonin. Listen to calming music, read, meditate, do light stretches, or take a bath. Transitioning into sleep mode before getting in bed helps seniors fall asleep faster.

Seek Treatment for Sleep Disorders

Many seniors suffer from undiagnosed sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and circadian rhythm disorders. See a doctor or sleep specialist if experiencing chronic disruptions falling asleep, staying asleep, snoring, gasping, leg cramps at night, or excessive daytime drowsiness. Treatment can help improve sleep and health.

How Sleep Changes From the 60s to 70s

Sleep patterns undergo further changes from the 60s to the 70s decade. Here is an overview of how sleep tends to change throughout the later decades:

Sleep in the 60s

  • Time asleep declines to 6.5-7 hours per night
  • Moderate increase in nighttime wakeups to 2-3 times per night
  • Sleep efficiency decreases slightly to 80-85%
  • Slight decrease in restorative slow wave and REM sleep
  • Napping increases to 30-45 minutes per day

Sleep in the 70s

  • Sleep time decreases further to 6-6.5 hours per night
  • Nighttime wakeups increase to 3-4 times per night
  • Sleep efficiency declines to 70-80%
  • Slow wave sleep reduced to less than 10% of night
  • Age-related disruptions to circadian rhythms intensify
  • Napping increases to 45-90 minutes per day

The most pronounced changes tend to occur after age 70, as deeper stages of non-REM and REM sleep continue diminishing but sleep needs do not. Prioritizing sleep hygiene, managing health conditions, and treating sleep disorders can all help seniors get the sleep their mind and body requires for optimal wellbeing.

How Much Sleep Do Older Adults Need?

The table below summarizes sleep recommendations for older adults:

Age Group Recommended Sleep Needs
65-70 years old 7-8 hours
70-80 years old 7-8 hours
Over 80 years old 7-8 hours

While sleep time decreases and nighttime wakeups increase between ages 65 and 80, total sleep needs remain stable at 7-8 hours per night throughout the senior years. Napping can help supplement nighttime sleep as needed.

Some seniors may feel fine on just 6 hours of sleep. However, getting less than 7 hours regularly can impair cognitive function, memory, mood, and health. Research shows that seniors who sleep less than 5-6 hours nightly have higher risks of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease compared to those sleeping 7-8 hours. Adequate sleep remains essential even into advanced age.

Sleep Changes from Ages 70 to 72

How does sleep change from age 70 to 72 specifically? Here are some of the key changes that can occur in just this short 2-year period:

– Sleep time decreases from 6-7 hours at age 70 to 5.5-6.5 hours by age 72

– Nighttime wakeups increase from 3-4 times per night at 70 to 4-5 times per night by 72

– Early morning wakening around 5-6 AM becomes more common

– Napping increases from about 1 hour to 1.5 hours per day

– REM sleep decreases from about 90 minutes to 60-75 minutes per night

– Slow wave sleep declines from 8-10% of sleep time to less than 5%

So in summary, the early 70s see a further reduction in total sleep time accompanied by more fragmented sleep and decreased time spent in restorative sleep stages. Catching up on sleep with daytime naps becomes more important. Getting a sleep disorders like sleep apnea or insomnia checked out is recommended if seniors are experiencing excessive nighttime awakenings, chronic sleepiness, or other disruptions.

Tips for Better Sleep After 70

It can be challenging getting enough consolidated sleep as we progress through our 70s. Here are some additional tips for improving sleep quality after 70:

Take Melatonin

Melatonin is a natural sleep hormone that declines with age. Taking a low-dose melatonin supplement 1-2 hours before bed helps increase sleepiness and improves sleep quality in older adults. Start with 0.5mg and increase as needed under medical supervision.

Exercise Earlier in the Day

Exercising outdoors in sunlight during the late morning or early afternoon helps reinforce circadian rhythms. Avoid strenuous exercise after 4 p.m. as this can make it harder to fall asleep.

Limit Nighttime Fluids

Cutting off fluids 2-3 hours before bed minimizes middle-of-the-night bathroom trips that can disrupt sleep. Track your nighttime sleep patterns to see if awakening tends to coincide with a need to urinate.

Establish Nightly Bedtime and Wake-Up Calls

Calling a friend or family member right before bed and again after waking in the morning provides social interaction and gives you something to look forward to at both ends of the night.

Check Your Bedroom Temperature

A comfortable, cool bedroom temperature around 65° F promotes sound slumber. Hot rooms can lead to restless nights.

Watch for Signs of Sleep Disorders

See your doctor if you regularly have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, feel unrested during the day, or have been told you snore or stop breathing during sleep. Diagnosing and treating underlying sleep disorders can significantly improve sleep.

Explore Assisted Living if Needed

Some seniors with extensive nighttime needs find that moving into an assisted living community leads to better sleep by providing overnight help, monitoring, and medication management.

The Importance of Napping for Seniors

Daytime napping becomes increasingly beneficial as we age. Napping helps compensate for lost sleep at night due to age-related changes in sleep patterns and sleep disorders. Research confirms that napping boosts mental performance and alertness in the elderly. Here are some napping tips for seniors:

  • Take naps early in the day, ideally before 3 p.m. Late naps interfere with nighttime sleep.
  • Limit naps to 30-45 minutes. Long naps lead to grogginess.
  • Fall asleep and wake up at the same times daily to reinforce circadian rhythms.
  • Make bedrooms conducive to napping by using window shades and quiet white noise machines.
  • If you don’t fall asleep after 30 minutes, get up rather than continuing to try sleeping.
  • Balance naps with other rejuvenating activities like walking, socializing, or enjoying a hobby.

Napping 2-3 times per week for 30 minutes can improve mood, thinking, and reaction times for older adults getting insufficient nighttime sleep. However, relying on excessive napping everyday makes it harder to sleep at night. Focus first on optimizing nighttime sleep through improved sleep hygiene. Regard naps as a supplement but not replacement for nighttime sleep.

Health Risks of Insufficient Sleep in the Elderly

While many seniors gradually sleep less as they get older, chronically inadequate sleep can have serious consequences for physical and mental health. Some key risks associated with insufficient sleep include:

Cognitive Impairment and Dementia

Insufficient sleep causes the toxic Alzheimer’s protein beta-amyloid to build up in the brain, accelerating cognitive decline. Older adults with short sleep have more than double the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease over time.


Inadequate sleep disturbs neurotransmitter systems in the brain that regulate mood. Short sleeping seniors have 3 times the risk of depression compared to those getting enough sleep.

Cardiovascular Disease

Short sleep duration and poor sleep quality increase inflammation and stress hormones that raise risks for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

Weakened Immunity

Sleep is critical for proper T-cell formation and immune function. Skimping on sleep leaves seniors susceptible to infections like the flu and COVID-19.

Metabolic Syndrome

Insufficient sleep can cause insulin resistance, increased appetite, and weight gain – all risk factors for type 2 diabetes and metabolic disease.

Accelerated Biological Aging

Lack of sleep stresses the body and speeds up the aging process through increased oxidative damage and cellular aging. Short sleepers have shorter telomeres linked to premature aging.

Prioritizing sufficient, high-quality sleep is one of the best ways for seniors to protect long-term health, cognitive function, and longevity. Talk to your doctor if you regularly struggle to sleep 7-8 hours nightly.


While the amount of sleep needed declines slightly from middle to older age, seniors still require a full 7-8 hours of sleep for optimal health and wellbeing. Getting adequate high-quality sleep helps support memory, mood, cardiovascular health, immunity, metabolism, healthy aging, and longevity. While fragmented sleep and more nighttime awakenings are common, seniors should still aim to sleep a full 7-8 hours through a combination of nighttime sleep and daytime napping. Maximizing sleep hygiene, managing underlying disorders, taking melatonin, and napping strategically can all help seniors get the sleep their bodies require as they progress through their 70s.