Our sleeping behavior changes over the course of life: Babies, children, young people, adults and the elderly have very different needs. A look into the “bedroom of life”.
The sleep-wake behavior with different sleeping times could not be more different from the cradle to old age. So let’s take a look at the different “bedrooms of life” together. When and how long are the beds occupied? What are the special characteristics of sleeping in the storm of life? What challenges do the sleepers – and their loved ones – face? There is a lot to discover!
Hans-Günter Weeß has been dealing with the topics of sleep and sleep disorders for more than 25 years. He is a board member of the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine and head of the interdisciplinary sleep center at the Pfalzklinikum Klingenmünster. Weeß has written several books on the subject of sleep, including “Sleep Works Miracles” and “The Sleepless Society”. He also developed the online program “Fit through healthy sleep”.
Sufficient and plenty of sleep is of elementary importance for healthy child development and, above all, for the maturation of the brain. This is how the nerve cells of the brain are interconnected during sleep. The more complex the wiring, the better the children’s future cognitive, emotional and social skills.
When it comes to the amount of sleep children get, there are – as with adults – big differences: 19 hours of sleep per day in the first month of life can be just as normal as new hours. On average, infants at this age need between 14 and 16 hours of naps.
Paradoxically, the newcomer to earth is not yet able to sleep properly in this phase of life. The brain is not yet properly mature and therefore not yet adapted to the light-dark rhythm. Sleeping and waking are controlled by hunger and feelings of satiety. When a baby is hungry, it wakes up and cries. After that it continues to slumber.
Anyone who cannot fall asleep properly in the evening not only struggles to get out of bed in the morning, but usually throughout the entire day. In the worst case, only sleeping pills help those affected. So that it doesn’t get that far for you, the somnologist Hans-Günter Weeß will explain in our free webinar on Tuesday, June 21, from 8:15 p.m. how you can become your own sleeping pill. GET YOUR FREE TICKET HERE!
A newborn sleeps between 15 and 18 hours a day at three to four hour intervals. To the chagrin of the young parents, regardless of whether it is day or night. Babies and toddlers can be real sleep thieves due to this seemingly structureless sleep behavior. In the first two years of a child’s life alone, parents can lose up to six months of sleep. Because of this lack of sleep, parents are sometimes very inventive to rock their children to sleep.
Here is just a small excerpt of the inventiveness of sleepless parents from my professional practice:
It is interesting that all of these methods, which are equally complex and successful in individual cases, can remind the infant of the flow of blood in the umbilical cord in the womb. So these are familiar noises that lull him into security, develop a calming effect and thus put him to sleep that everyone involved is longing for. There is a wealth of womb sounds audio files available for download on the internet. The Internet fan community raves about the calming and sleep-promoting effect on the baby.
As the brain matures, the newborn adapts to the light-dark rhythm and the control of sleeping and waking takes place in our brain through daylight and darkness. In the absence of sunlight, better in the dark, the brain is able to form the sleep hormone melatonin. It makes you tired and promotes sleep.
Already in the course of the first year of life, children sleep mainly at night and only have a short sleep period in the morning and afternoon. At the age of two to three years, there is only one nap per day. With the beginning of kindergarten age, this biphasic sleep-wake behavior often has to be given up with an afternoon nap.
At this age, the brain has already gotten used to the light-dark rhythm, children generally sleep through the night and between the ages of three and four, napping becomes less and less important. Especially if you have trouble falling asleep in the evening, it can make sense to further reduce your afternoon nap or to do without it altogether. Sleep is still of fundamental importance in this age group.
It is important to know that people have different genetic needs for sleep and also vary in their sleeping times. This also applies to children. Children aged 3-4 years sleep between 11 and 13 hours on average, children starting primary school between 10 and 12 hours on average. The sleep times given here are approximate and intended for guidance only. The decisive criterion for the amount of sleep actually required is how well you feel during the day. If your offspring feels fit, rested and appears mentally balanced, it was enough sleep at night.
An American study was able to show that problems in the ability to think and social behavior can occur if children between the ages of three and seven do not get enough sleep. The risk of physical illnesses, mental disorders and obesity also remains increased. Although the children can now sleep through the night, not every child’s room is quiet at night. This phase of life is the peak phase of the so-called parasomnias.
This refers to disorders that occur in connection with sleep: monsters and demons are now up to nocturnal mischief in the children’s room in the form of nightmares and strong unconscious fear reactions and rob both young and old of sleep. Sleepwalking drives the children out of bed and room, through the apartment and sometimes even out of the house, as if externally controlled. These are usually not serious illnesses.
With the onset of puberty, a new phase of life begins for the teenager and his sleep. The sleeping type develops, now it is decided whether we will become a lark or an owl. But that’s not all. At the same time, people in this phase of life – regardless of the type of sleep – have shifted the furthest backwards with their sleep-wake rhythm.
In other words: he is the “newest”. In no other phase of life do you go to bed so late and get up so late in the morning. However, long nights out and parties are not responsible for this, they add to the difficulty. It is biological changes, primarily hormonal changes, shifts in body temperature over the course of the day and changes in the immune system that turn pubescent adolescents into night owls.
The pronounced physical changes of puberty are accompanied by a temporarily greater need for sleep. Up to an hour teenagers sleep more again and even the afternoon nap is becoming more popular again. In total, it can be nine to ten hours of sleep in this phase. The “owlness” does not remain without consequences.
Parents of pubescents fight with the bad-tempered offspring at the breakfast table, there is mumbling, silence or arguments. At school, the performance sometimes drops dramatically, as a middle and high school teacher you can often snag the first hours in the early morning, the students are useless. Starting school later would be an effective measure here. And if you want to do something good for yourself and the rest of your family, don’t let the “puberty” take part in Sunday breakfast.
Little changes in the biology of sleep between the ages of 25 and 50. The average genetic need for sleep is six to eight hours. However, sleep is subject to numerous constraints and threats. Due to partnership, family and professional conditions, influences of our modern 24-hour non-stop society and our leisure time behavior, one could also describe this phase of life as the phase of chronic lack of sleep.
Adults in our modern age are often tired and lack sleep. At the same time, he values sleep far too little. If he can decide for himself whether to go to bed, indulge in his hobbies, meet up with friends or watch the late-night movie, he rarely chooses to sleep. Shift work, overtime, night school, second jobs and stress do the rest.
Surprisingly, as people get older, their sleep pattern changes, but the need for sleep only marginally. At around 15 percent, dream sleep (REM phase) is only disproportionately less pronounced than in younger adults. The deep sleep phases also remain constant in the older woman.
Only the older man looks into the tube: The amount of deep sleep decreases continuously from the age of fifty. At the age of seventy, he often has nothing left or only remnants of the nightly fountain of youth, regeneration processes and repair programs during deep sleep are less pronounced. This is possibly one of the factors that can be held responsible for the shorter life expectancy of men.
Overall, the sleep of both sexes loses firmness with age. The wake-up threshold is reduced and sleep is more easily irritated by noise or other disruptive stimuli. Anyone who now makes demands on sleep to be able to sleep like they did in their mid-thirties will be bitterly disappointed night after night. Looking at the ceiling at night, one or two waking phases lasting up to 30 minutes are more the rule than the exception after a certain age. During lectures, hands always go up at this point.
“From what age is that the case exactly?” is the urgent question. “An exact age limit cannot be set. It depends on when and where cell breakdown in the brain begins. It begins somewhere between the ages of fifty and ninety,” is my answer, which is not always satisfactory for the audience.
Despite this, older people do not sleep less overall. He is now sleeping during the day again to compensate for the reduced ability to sleep at night. Morning or afternoon naps are the order of the day. And in the evenings, the conditions are often more conducive to sleep than before: the children have left the house, everyday working life – if you are not yet retired – is carried out with a lot of routine and experience, the house or apartment has been paid off, the rent has to be paid, the evenings are calmer and more relaxed.
Of course, that changes when existential worries, health or family problems come up. But statically, the average sleeper is more relaxed as they get older.
The chronotype also changes during this phase of life. It doesn’t matter whether we are larks or owls, our need for sleep moves forward again. We get tired earlier in the evening and go to bed earlier. In return, we wake up much earlier in the morning. Again, if you will, the older person’s sleep-wake pattern is somewhat similar to that of the toddler.