Everyone knows that, as you get older, your sleep patterns change and, for the most part, get worse. A lot worse.
The arc of sleep goes from the totally out like a light sleep of the very young to the 12-hour power-sleeping capabilities of college students, but it’s all downhill from there. By the time you’re in your 40s, 50s, and 60s, the realities of shrinking bladder capacity and ever-present concerns about developments in your career and family life combine to make sleep a fitful exercise, with lots of tossing and turning mixed in. There’s not much REM sleep to be had.
Scientists think there is an evolutionary reason for this unfortunate trend — one that goes back to caveman days. They say older folks sleep less soundly because their role in the tribe was to be alert for potential predators, attacks from warring clans, and other lurking disasters. In caveman days, the blue-haired set would go to bed earlier than the rest of the tribe. Then, with their lighter sleep habits, they would be roused by the sounds that a nocturnal animal would make upon entering the cave and could give the alert, so that the more youthful members of the tribe could help to fight the predator. And the sleepless oldsters would also be first up in the morning, to get that all-important fire going and be ready to deal with any unwanted intrusions by bears or wolves or sabertoothed tigers.
It’s nice to know that there’s an exciting explanation for experiencing poorer, less satisfying sleep as you get older, and that in the dawn of humanity a codger my age would be quickly roused to alertness in order to grapple with cave bears and save the tribe. I’d still trade it for a solid seven hours of sound sleep.