From Crib to Care Home: A Guide to Sleeping Like a Baby at Every Age

From Crib to Care Home: A Guide to Sleeping Like a Baby at Every Age
5th March 2024 Samantha Anderson

From Crib to Care Home: A Guide to Sleeping Like a Baby at Every Age

How can we help infants settle and do we need more sleep in our senior years? TEMPUR® sleep specialist explains how to get the best night’s sleep for different life stages.

Sleep patterns and needs evolve as we grow and age from infancy through to senior years. Ahead of World Sleep Day (15 March), TEMPUR® sleep specialist & sleep counsellor, Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, shares his complete guide to sleep by life stage.

Thomas says: “Sleep is essential to allow the body to rest, repair, and recharge, so it is no surprise that achieving the right amount of quality sleep each night can be hugely beneficial for both mental and physical health. Consistently good sleep can work to reduce stress, improve focus, and boost cardiovascular health, to name only a few benefits.

“We all know that we should be aiming to get a great night’s sleep, but what people often fail to consider is how the very meaning of this – and the barriers to achieving it – change as we age.

“Whilst 14 hours a day can be a healthy amount for newborns, they might struggle to obtain this due to physiological needs such as hunger, for example, or developmental difficulties, such as an inability to self soothe. At 7 hours, adults are recommended as little as half this quantity yet are also likely to struggle to achieve those full seven hours due to factors such as work-related stress or alcohol consumption.

“Though the optimal amount of sleep is personal to every individual, there is no doubt that the first step on the journey to better sleep is to understand what a good night’s sleep at your age should look like, and how to overcome the most common obstructions to getting it.”

Read on for Thomas’s guide to achieving the best night’s sleep according to age…

Rock-a-bye baby (up to 1 year old)

Newborns require the highest amount of daily sleep on average (sometimes up to 18 hours in total! ), which is no surprise given the immense levels of physical and mental development taking place at this early stage of life.

It is important to familiarise babies with the concept of day and night as early as possible – even when their sleep-wake cycle is not yet aligned. Think open curtains, radio playing, and playful, upbeat interactions during daytime hours spent awake between naps, transitioning to dimly lit interiors, soothing sounds, and calming activities when it comes to evening and night.

Usually around the three-month mark, you can start to introduce a more established bedtime routine to reinforce your baby’s understanding that night is a time for rest. This can include a pre-sleep feed (to reduce the risk of them waking due to hunger), a warm bath, a relaxing baby massage, and some soothing music.

As babies grow, the amount of sleep needed during daylight hours will gradually decrease and by the age of one, should be a couple of one-to-two hour naps a day with a total sleep duration of 12–15 hours in a 24-hour period . This often means that, much to most parents’ relief, the tendency to wake during the night lessens too!

Toddlers & early childhood (1 – 12 years old)

Toddlers will need around 11-14 hours’ sleep daily, which will reduce to 10-13 hours for 3 to 6-year-olds, and then drop again to around 9-12 hours when children turn six . Children typically stop requiring daytime naps sometime around the age of 3 years old.

It is important to continue practicing a consistent and soothing bedtime routine, especially as your child experiences increasing amounts of stimulation during their daytimes (playgroups, nursery or school). Returning each day to a familiar routine will be comforting, calming, and is perfect for preparing them for bedtime.

As they grow older and more independent, you might find some occasional resistance to bedtime. The simplest solution can often be found in establishing why. Is your child afraid of the dark? If so, invest in a nightlight and give them a cuddly toy to snuggle with for comfort. Do they feel out of control? Give them a sense of independence by letting them choose the book for story time or a lullaby to sing together. Is separation anxiety kicking in (again)? Sit close by for a while or check in regularly to reassure them that bedtime does not mean you will be abandoning them… The main goal is to ensure that your child views bedtime and sleep as a positive, comforting experience – not as something to dread, fear or fight against.

As the kids become (very proud) owners of phones and games consoles, be sure to establish the bedroom as a tech-free zone come evening, as the blue light emitted by such screens can disrupt your child’s natural sleep-wake cycle. This will also help to reinforce the fact that the bedroom at night is a place for rest, not play.

Toolbox for teenagers (13 – 18 years old)

As a rule, teens need around nine hours of sleep every night , however, factors such exam-related stress, late-night screentime, or poor diet often prevent them from obtaining this.

Stress can be both the cause and result of poor sleep. From sitting exams and fitting in with peers, to navigating first relationships and an increased level of independence, it is not unusual for teenagers to feel anxious every now and then.

Be sure to equip your teenagers with a toolbox of techniques to help them unwind and relax ahead of bedtime to minimise the impact of such stress on their sleep. This can include breathing exercises, meditation, journalling, reading, or even something as simple as stretching.

Warn your teenager off any late night, caffeine-fuelled cramming sessions too. Caffeine is well-known to reduce both sleep quality and quantity, so will likely leave your teen feeling even more exhausted and stressed than before, inevitably negatively impacting cognitive function. The stimulant can take up to 10 hours to pass out of the bloodstream, so any consumption later than 2pm should be avoided.

Sleep good for adulthood (18 years and over)

Most of us know that adults require at least seven hours of sleep per night and yet many struggle to achieve this. Key culprits can often include work-related stress or anxiety, the effects of alcohol consumption or night time disruption from a bed partner.

Stress can be a very disruptive force when it comes to sleeping well in adulthood. Worries that accumulate during a busy day – as we rush around to fulfil work, family, and personal commitments – often move to the forefront of our minds come the quieter night, leaving us tossing and turning as we try to sleep. This is why, as with teenagers, it is so important that we allow sufficient time for our mind and body to unwind ahead of bed by engaging in soothing activities such as reading, breathwork, journalling or a warm bath.

A common misconception is that alcohol facilitates a good night’s sleep. Whilst it might make us feel drowsy and help us get to sleep, an alcohol-induced slumber is usually poor quality. Alcohol is proven to disrupt natural sleep patterns and hinder our ability to sleep through the night, both of which can leave us waking up feeling sluggish and irritable.

There’s no need to go teetotal though. You can minimise alcohol’s impact on sleep by considering when and how much you drink. Your body can process approximately one unit of alcohol per hour , so avoid drinking alcohol close to bedtime and swap your usual nightcap for a pre-dinner tipple.

Sharing a bed with a partner can also increase your risk of sleep deprivation – whether due to loud snoring, restful wriggling, or duvet-hogging. Investing in a high-quality pair of ear plugs, a mattress with motion-absorption qualities, layering blankets or even using separate duvets are all simple solutions to help overcome these barriers to a great night’s sleep.

Elderly (65 years and over)

Many believe that elderly people require more sleep, but this is a misconception. The recommended minimum for all healthy adults, including those aged sixty-five and over, is seven hours a night . Having said this, achieving an undisrupted, high-quality sleep can become difficult in old age due to factors such as health and hormonal changes, which is why the elderly may struggle with tiredness.

The amount of daily activity can decrease at this stage of life, with people no longer rushing around to keep up with a young family or work commitments. Likewise, decreased levels of mobility – not uncommon amongst the elderly – are also likely to reduce our ability to exercise and negatively impact the amount of time spent outside – both of which are believed to improve sleep quality , .

The obvious way to counter this is to try and maintain a relatively active lifestyle into the sunset years. For example, it is recommended that people aged 65 and over do at least 150 minutes of moderate-level activity a week .

If you’re not able to do exercises such as hiking, swimming or biking, simply opt for whichever form of movement feels best for you and your level of mobility. This could include gentle stretching, walking, standing up and sitting down in a chair, or simply getting up to make a cup of tea.

Similarly, spending time outdoors in natural daylight can help reset your sleep-wake cycle, so be sure to get your daily dose – whether on a walk, sat on a bench, or being pushed in a wheelchair through the local park.

Rules for all

A sure-fire way to facilitate a better night’s sleep is to practice good sleep hygiene.

Establish a sleep routine that works for you and stick to it. This will help your body establish a consistent, natural sleep-wake cycle which can do wonders for your overall sleep quality. As such, try to avoid making up for lost sleep with a lie-in. Instead of sleeping in, spend your morning reading a book in bed or having a leisurely coffee in the kitchen.

Ensure that your bedroom, bedding, and sleepwear is fit for purpose too. The ideal sleep environment is dark, quiet, and cool – much like a cave. If you find unwelcome sources of light are keeping you up, consider investing in an eye mask or black-out curtains.

Adding soft furnishings can be a great way to reduce noise, with the surfaces having an absorptive quality, but if this doesn’t work, consider embracing a soothing soundtrack to block it out.

In terms of temperature, try to keep your bedroom at 18°C. You can further reduce the risk of waking up due to overheating by ensuring that all your bedding and sleepwear is made with natural, breathable materials such as cotton and linen.

Bear in mind that everyone is different; what might work for most, may not work for you! Whilst knowing how much sleep you should get, how to overcome common barriers, and practicing good sleep hygiene can facilitate a great night’s sleep, if you continue to struggle with sleep or fatigue persistently, do not hesitate to visit a doctor or health professional for support.

For more information on TEMPUR® visit www.tempur.co.uk.

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TEMPUR® researches, develops, manufactures and distributes mattresses, pillows and other sleep products to improve the sleep experience worldwide.

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