Article written by Dr Greg Potter ( PhD, MSc, BSc)

Greg Potter helps individuals and organisations sustainably improve their health and performance through practical lifestyle changes. He does this through coaching, public speaking, consulting, podcasting, writing articles, and developing and popularising innovative new products.

Greg’s PhD research focuses on sleep, circadian rhythms, nutrition, and metabolism, and he is co-founder and Chief Science Officer of Resilient Nutrition, a nutrition and supplement company.

As you’ve gotten older, you’ve surely noticed your sleep has changed. Perhaps every aspect of sleep changes over the lifespan, and
as adulthood progresses, changes in sleep, unfortunately, tend to be in unfavourable directions. In turn, worsening sleep contributes to ageing. If you want to maintain or improve your wellbeing as you sleep, you might therefore want to do what you can to protect yourself against common forms of ageing-related sleep deterioration. In this article we’ll briefly consider the bidirectional relationship between sleep and ageing, ending with ways to counter common ageing-related sleep difficulties.


Ageing affects each of the dimensions of sleep health we reviewed in the first article in this series.

First, sleep duration tends to dwindle a little as we progress through adulthood. Indeed, the National Sleep Foundation suggests that whereas most 18- to 64-year-old adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, most adults above this age range need 7 to 8 hours each night. There is debate regarding whether this reflects either a) reduced sleep needs as people get older, or b) reduced ability to generate sleep. Regardless, activities that support your ability to get enough sleep, such as exercise training, can help counter some ageing-related health issues.

Regarding sleep timing, from the end of adolescence on, sleep shifts earlier as the years go by. This isn’t always problematic, but sometimes sleep can advance to a time so early that it compromises the ability to integrate with the rest of society. Nobody wants to nod off at 6 pm and wake up at 2 am!

There are changes in sleep quality during ageing too. We can think of these alterations in a few ways. For one, sleep “architecture” changes such that we spend a lower proportion of total sleep time in deep sleep and have more frequent and longer night-time awakenings late in life, all of which make sleep feel less restorative. Worsening sleep quality also manifests as an increasing risk of a few sleep disorders during ageing, including insomnia, certain types of sleep-disordered breathing and sleep-related movement disorders, and rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder. These are subjects for another time, but if your sleep changes dramatically as your life progresses, you should speak with your physician.

Then there are the effects of menopause on sleep quality. Increased night-time awakenings are especially common during menopause, a time when various biological changes can impair sleep quality. For example, alterations in sex hormones lead to periodic “vasomotor” symptoms, such as hot flushes. Finally, accumulating health issues (e.g., chronic diseases and pain disorders) and increasing use of various medications can degrade sleep during ageing.


Ageing affects sleep, but various lines of evidence point to sleep affecting ageing too. All the dimensions of sleep health mentioned above are associated with how long people live, and the combination of all the dimensions may be one of the strongest predictors of lifespan in adults aged 65 and over. The associations between sleep and lifespan relate in part to many age-related diseases, from cardiometabolic health conditions such as metabolic syndrome to neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. Exactly how sleep issues drive ageing has not yet been well studied, but scientists are uncovering some of the processes involved. Various hallmarks of the biology of ageing have been identified, and sleep seems likely to affect many of these.


The information above is not meant to be alarmist or unduly worry you, so please don’t overinterpret it!  Instead, use it as a catalyst to make some changes to support your sleep health, and then don’t fret about things you can’t control.  To end, let’s consider a few things you can do to boost your sleep health in the second half of your life.


In general, anything that challenges your physical and/or mental capacities is great for sleep.

There’s strong evidence showing that many types of exercise — everything from yoga to strength training to endurance exercise — improve multiple measures of sleep, including time taken to fall asleep and both objective and subjective measures of sleep quality. The most important thing is to do physical activities that you enjoy and will therefore keep up over time. This said, a mix of different types of activities is likely best, and including some resistance training for all major muscle groups is especially important to warding off frailty and loss of independence.

Doing cognitively taxing tasks can also support your sleep. Interestingly, the brain circuits most engaged during a given activity show the deepest sleep-like activity later, so doing a variety of hard tasks will encourage deep sleep in many parts of the brain. In turn, doing difficult tasks is clearly protective against various ailments, such as dementia.

Note that there are activities that meaningfully challenge your body and brain concurrently. Dance classes, for instance, are great in that they require physical activity, timing, and coordination. They also tend to be done with other people, which is particularly relevant to your wellbeing!

1. Stop Napping During The Day To Sleep Better At Night

As you age, you might increasingly feel the urge to nap. Napping can be attractive, especially if you’ve not been sleeping well at night. However, if you’re struggling to sleep well at night, you should stop napping unless you’re taking a short nap for safety reasons (before driving, for example). The reason is that even a short nap will reduce a lot of the sleep “pressure” or “hunger” for sleep that’s accumulated in your body during prior wakefulness. This pressure promotes deep sleep, so if you nap during the day then you’ll probably then take longer to fall asleep at night and your sleep will be less deep too.

2. If You’re Waking Frustratingly Earlier, Change When You’re Exposed To Bright Light

Your sleep timing is gated by the timing of your body’s clock system. The timing of the master clock in this system is most affected by when your eyes are exposed to bright light and darkness, respectively.

To shift your body’s clock and hence your sleep later, minimise your exposure to light in the 2 hours after you wake in the morning. If you’re indoors at this time, keep the lights dim and avoid daylight. If you’re outdoors, wear sunglasses.

The corollary of this is that if you want to delay your clock, you should increase your exposure to bright light late in your waking day. Specifically, there’s a time window between about 4 hours before and 90 minutes before your target bedtime when you should get more bright light. At this time, daylight is best, if the sun is up. If not, turn on the overhead lights to their strongest setting. To further delay your clock, you could try doing some moderate exercise during this time window too.

3. Address Menopause-Related Sleep Difficulties

There are many things you can do to counter menopause symptoms that disrupt sleep, including the insomnia strategies we addressed in the first and second articles in this series and the temperature-related tips described in the third article. During menopause, it’s particularly important to have bedding that keeps you cool. Their Smart Temperature collection harnesses advanced HeiQ® technology to dissipate heat as temperature rises, keeping you near the optimal in-bed temperature when the temperature would otherwise be rising.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help with sleep disturbances during menopause. You might want to discuss this with your doctor if you haven’t already done so. HRT is not for everyone — for example, if you have a family history of hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer, it might not be for you. However, it does dramatically improve the quality of life of some postmenopausal women.

Finally, sleep apnoea becomes more common following the menopause, perhaps in part because of changes in body fat distribution. For more on identifying and treating this sleep disorder, please refer to the second article in this series.

Sleep Well

In summary, there’s a strong two-way relationship between sleep and ageing, so creating conditions conducive to sleeping well can help you keep age-related ailments at bay. There are some simple ways to mitigate common ageing-related sleep troubles, and if you decide to try any of the ones mentioned above, let us know the results by messaging @finebeddingco on Instagram or Facebook.

January 30, 2023 — Dr. Greg Potter