Waking up in the middle of the night is bad: A sweet dream interrupted by a middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom is certainly annoying, but probably won’t be detrimental to your sleep cycle. According to Roger Ekirch, author of, “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past,” throughout history, human beings typically slept in two segments. “The way we sleep today is a remarkably recent phenomenon, the consequence of modern technology,” he says. Ekirch has found historical evidence from cultures around the world that suggests a “bimodal sleep pattern.” Before the advent of artificial light sources, which have re-wired our internal clocks, he says that it wasn’t uncommon for a person to wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes for an hour or more, and then fall back asleep until morning.
My nightly routine doesn’t have to change just because I’m getting older: Your sleep needs may not change drastically as you get older, but your ability to get truly restful slumber might. “As we get older, our sleep gets more fragile, it becomes lighter and more easily disrupted,” says Monk. Oxeman agrees, adding that environmental factors (light, mattress quality, etc.), medications, certain diseases, chronic pain, depression, and lack of routine all factor in to why it’s harder for older people to catch the optimal amount of Zs. How can you make the most of your pillow time as you age? Take a hard look at your sleep environment. Is your mattress too old? Does your bed-time ritual involve too much screen time (TV or computer)—a proven trigger of insomnia? Is there too much light in the room? All of these little elements together can create an inhospitable situation for snoozing. Another important thing to watch out for: caffeine consumption. Even if it didn’t affect you as a young adult, downing a late-afternoon latte could keep you awake when you’re older, says Monk. He suggests abiding by this rule: no coffee, green tea or other caffeinated culprits after 4 pm.
Eight hours is the golden standard of sleep: This is perhaps one of the most oft-repeated sleep fallacies in history. The truth, as Monk puts it, is “different strokes for different folks.” Everyone’s sleep needs are unique to them. Some people can get by on six hours, while others need at least eight. For most people, somewhere between seven, and seven-and-a-half hours is the ideal amount, according to Monk. You can tell if you’re not honoring your individual sleep requirements if you find yourself falling asleep at your desk mid-afternoon, hibernating the whole weekend, or nodding off in front of the evening news.