Objectives: The purposes of this study were to identify age-related changes in objectively recorded sleep patterns across the human life span in healthy individuals and to clarify whether sleep latency and percentages of stage 1, stage 2, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep significantly change with age.
Design: Review of literature of articles published between 1960 and 2003 in peer-reviewed journals and meta-analysis.
Participants: 65 studies representing 3,577 subjects aged 5 years to 102 years.
Measurement: The research reports included in this meta-analysis met the following criteria: (1) included nonclinical participants aged 5 years or older; (2) included measures of sleep characteristics by "all night" polysomnography or actigraphy on sleep latency, sleep efficiency, total sleep time, stage 1 sleep, stage 2 sleep, slow-wave sleep, REM sleep, REM latency, or minutes awake after sleep onset; (3) included numeric presentation of the data; and (4) were published between 1960 and 2003 in peer-reviewed journals.
Results: In children and adolescents, total sleep time decreased with age only in studies performed on school days. Percentage of slow-wave sleep was significantly negatively correlated with age. Percentages of stage 2 and REM sleep significantly changed with age. In adults, total sleep time, sleep efficiency, percentage of slow-wave sleep, percentage of REM sleep, and REM latency all significantly decreased with age, while sleep latency, percentage of stage 1 sleep, percentage of stage 2 sleep, and wake after sleep onset significantly increased with age. However, only sleep efficiency continued to significantly decrease after 60 years of age. The magnitudes of the effect sizes noted changed depending on whether or not studied participants were screened for mental disorders, organic diseases, use of drug or alcohol, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, or other sleep disorders.
Conclusions: In adults, it appeared that sleep latency, percentages of stage 1 and stage 2 significantly increased with age while percentage of REM sleep decreased. However, effect sizes for the different sleep parameters were greatly modified by the quality of subject screening, diminishing or even masking age associations with different sleep parameters. The number of studies that examined the evolution of sleep parameters with age are scant among school-aged children, adolescents, and middle-aged adults. There are also very few studies that examined the effect of race on polysomnographic sleep parameters.