How Does Age Affect Circadian Rhythms

How Does Age Affect Circadian Rhythms

Sleep is one of the most important factors in our lives, yet many of us have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep. It’s not uncommon for people to experience insomnia and other sleep problems as they get older. What exactly causes this? Is it a matter of our bodies just running out of energy, or are there other reasons for poor sleep? This article will explain how age affects the body’s circadian rhythms, which is the body’s natural cycle of rest and activity.

Relation Between Age and Circadian Rhythm

One of the two major sleep regulatory systems is the circadian rhythm system. The timing of sleep and sleep structure in humans is influenced by the circadian timing system, and many aspects of sleep are different for both young and older adults. In both healthy subjects and in some clinical conditions, a proper alignment of the timing of sleep and the time of sleep is important for sleep duration and quality. If the circadian timing system has a large effect on the timing of REM sleep, it also has a small but still significant effect on many aspects of non-REM sleep.

Circadian drive for wakefulness increases from early morning until late at night. During this period, the homeostatic sleep pressure is high, so the circadian drive for wakefulness is maximal, the so-called “wake maintenance zone”. During the early morning hours, when homeostatic sleep pressure is low, the drive for sleep reaches its highest point. Sleep is regulated by both the circadian clock and homeostatic processes. Under ideal conditions, these two processes interact to promote consolidated sleep and prevent awakenings during the night. The ability to consolidate sleep throughout the night can be affected by a small change in the time of sleep in young adults. Therefore, sleep timing and consolidation changes seen in ageing may be related to age-related changes in sleep regulation. Maybe later it’ll be a target for therapy to improve sleep.

Impact on Sleep


With ageing circadian rhythms drift back earlier. Eveningness tends to peak in the late teens or early twenties, and there is a progressive drift towards earlier rhythms with ageing. Females tend to have earlier timing of their circadian rhythms than males. The majority of healthy adults have an endogenous circadian period that lasts more than a day.

This shows that the majority of adults need to shift earlier to stay in tune with the external light-dark cycle. Humans are still influenced by the external light/dark cycle even though time spent indoors has increased. Longer sleep durations and later sleep onsets can be seen in the face of socially mandated wake times.

Adults who were engaged in shift work were the only ones who were considered to suffer from chronic circadian disruption. A constantly changing light/dark cycle is caused by a constantly changing shift work or irregular shifts. Stable permanent shifts, whether morning, evening, or night shifts, can be difficult as most shift workers prefer to sleep in on days off. Therefore, shift work can disrupt sleep and cause worse mental and physical health problems. Shift work should be avoided in patients who are at risk for mental health conditions. It has been recognized that irregular sleep timing is a form of circadian disruption. If sleep timing is generally irregular, this has negative effects on both your mental and physical health. This is because it causes the circadian rhythms to shift, making it harder for your body to deal with the new schedule.

Social jet lag is a type of irregular sleep timing in which there are shifts in sleep times from work to free days. Sleep usually moves to earlier clock time on work days and drifts back to later more circadian-appropriate clock times on free days.

Sleep deprivation for more than two hours is associated with higher levels of depression and greater use of alcohol and drugs. About 30% of people are shift workers, and a third of them report getting less than six hours of sleep each night. Longitudinal studies are needed to determine if irregular sleep timing and social jet lag are risk factors for mental health disorders.


There are a number of factors that can contribute to circadian disruption in the elderly. Circadian rhythms continue to drift earlier in time. If you have difficulty falling asleep or wake up early because of being excessively sleepy during the day, then you might have advanced sleep-wake phase disorder (ASWPD). Reduced light exposure is associated with ageing, as less time is spent outside and lighting can be dim.

The yellow lens in the eyes reduces the exposure to the most potent blue wavelength light. In the extreme case of dementia, these factors, along with a potentially disintegrating suprachiasmatic nucleus, can cause irregular sleep-wake rhythm disorder. There is a less robust rhythm with multiple episodes of sleep during the day and multiple periods of wake during the night

circadian rhythm

Ways to Get Quality Sleep

It is difficult to fight the natural inclination of your body to sleep at certain times, so the easiest way to get better sleep is to shift your sleeping pattern earlier. It is possible to get sound sleep by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.

It is possible to sleep through the night if you are given more light during the day. Try not to get too much light in the morning hours if you prefer to sleep later. If you want to use light therapy later in the day, you should go for an evening walk. Delaying the release of melatonin and tricking your body into sleeping later can be accomplished by this.

In order to improve sleep, you must adopt sleep hygiene habits that strengthen the circadian rhythm and create a mental association between bed and sleep.

Experts recommend starting sleeping better:

  • Eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Avoiding and limiting alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco after lunch
  • Keeping naps to a maximum of 30 minutes
  • Getting daily exercise, preferably outside
  • Keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet
  • Turning off the TV and other screens an hour before bed
  • Getting out of bed and doing something else if you can’t sleep
  • Avoiding liquids and large meals before bed

Treating the underlying issues that contribute to poor sleep is important, especially if you suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, or prostate disorders. Discuss with your doctor to see if you can change your medication schedule to sleep better. Melatonin supplements or cognitive-behavioural therapy for insomnia can be prescribed by your doctor to help reestablish a healthy sleep pattern.


The circadian rhythm of an individual is set when they are born. However, as we age, this rhythm begins to shift and change. This is why we need to be mindful of the time we eat, sleep, and exercise, especially as we get older. We will also discuss what this means for our health and well-being.

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