Sleep deprivation: How aging affects quality of sleep and increases health issues

On this third story on sleep deprivation, I would like to issue the question: “Are you aware that besides diet and exercise, sleep habits also contribute to your health, even more as you grow older?” According to WebMD’s September 2017 Issue, one recent research program studied the sleep habits of 1,344 middle-aged and older adults who already had the following health issues: obesity, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure. The results were astoundingly clear: “Those who got less than six hours of sleep per night had a greater risk of dying during the 16-year study period.” In fact, the research indicated that depending on their individual conditions, “The risk of death was double that of people who slept six hours or more.”

As you probably already are aware of, good restorative sleep does get more difficult to obtain as we inch our way to and into the “80 mark.” The Wall Street Journal gives us a more thorough, in depth look into the sleep challenges seniors face. The first is a natural reduction in the quantity and quality of deep sleep brain waves – the stage that overhauls your cardiovascular, immune and metabolic systems and renews learning and memory abilities. These reductions in quality of deep-sleep increase your chance for getting heart attacks, stroke and obesity, as well as the toxin brain protein buildup (beta amyloid) now being linked to Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, by the time you reach age 70, you will have lost 80% to 90% of the capacity to enjoy deep sleep.

The second altered sleep problem is fragmentation. You don’t need to be told that the older we get, the more frequently we wake up during the night. This is usually caused by body pain and a weakened bladder, the latter of which can somewhat be helped by reducing liquid intake before bedtime. Fragmentation leads to a loss of actual sleep time while you are in bed nightly. Ninety percent sleep efficiency is considered good-quality sleep, but in our 80s, most of us experience only the average of 80% sleep efficiency or 1 1/2 hours spent in-bed wakefulness. The lower an individual’s average here, the higher their mortality risk and worse their physical health and cognitive function (forgetfulness) will be, according to WSJ.

With advanced age, the third sleep change is that of circadian timing: The body’s internal clock that times our sleep-wake rhythms. Unplanned naps in the daytime or even early night hours will make it harder to sleep at night. To compound this issue, many elderly will have their circadian rhythms rise around 4 or 5 a.m., even it they had trouble falling asleep the evening before. Our newspaper reports “Exposure to nighttime light suppresses the normal rise in melatonin, a sleep-delaying effect that can be put to good use in seniors.” The use of the sleep hormone, melatonin, may help to restore a somewhat normal circadian. 

***This evening prescription is usually to be used for a brief period of time and should be approved by your doctor first. Let’s not forget the value of a daily exercise program (executed not too late at night) to battle that sleep debt!

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