sleep and aging

Sleep is a very important factor in determining how we feel and function daily. Sleep and Aging research show that sleep efficiency declines as we get older. Sleep patterns change and sleep is not as deep as when we were younger. But regardless of age, everyone needs to sleep well in order to stay physically and mentally healthy.

Sleep is the time our body heals and restores energy. During sleep the brain organizes information, solves problems and exchanges chemicals.

If you can't sleep properly it can affect your mental judgment and physical performance. Long term sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, weight gain and Alzheimer's.

Sleep deprivation is considered to be one of the major factors of premature aging.

Do you need less sleep as you get older?

The amount of sleep we need does NOT usually decline with age. If you needed 8 hours of sleep when you were 20, you still need about the same amount. Napping counts as sleep, too and so does falling asleep in front of the TV or the computer.

How do sleep and aging affect each other?

As we age, the quality of sleep declines. During a normal night, there are 5 stages of sleep. Stages 1 through 4 are referred to as NREM (non rapid eye movements). Light sleep occurs in stage 1 and 2. Stages 3 and 4 are deep sleep. The 5th stage is REM(rapid eye movement), the dreaming stage in which the body is the most relaxed.

These 5 stages make up one cycle which lasts about 90 minutes. During a night's sleep we go through 4-5 sleep cycles.

As we age, we spend less time in deep sleep (stages 3 and 4) and are therefore more prone to wake up in the middle of the night from noises, aches and pains. While we may spend the same amount of time in bed as we always did, we are sleeping less and as a result, many baby boomers become sleep deprived.

What are the effects of sleep deprivation?

  • Moodiness increases
  • Reaction time slows down
  • Memory declines
  • Solving simple problems becomes more difficult
  • Agility, strength, and coordination decline
  • Immune system weakens making you more susceptible to colds infections, and disease

Troubled sleep may be a sign of other problems

Medications: As we age medications play a larger role in our life. There are medications that have stimulating effects and keep us from falling asleep and others that can cause sleepiness.

Stressful situations : Financial or family problems can cause stress and keep you from sleeping.

Medical disorders: Many illnesses and other conditions such as arthritis, heartburn, constipation , sinus problems, night sweats, and urinary incontinence , can disrupt sleep and/or cause us to wake up several times a night.

Sleep disorders: Sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome, can disrupt sleep regardless of age.

Lifestyle and habits : Certain foods, alcohol and smoking have an effect on how we sleep.

Taking naps: For some napping during the day can disrupt sleep at night.

Is too much sleep bad for you?

Studies show that people who sleep more than 8 hours or less than 4 have a higher death rate than those that get 6-7 hours of sleep. But researchers don't believe that sleep itself is harmful. Excess sleep is usually a symptom of other problems such as depression, poor diet and lack of exercise.

Sleep and aging does not necessarily have to be a disastrous combination. There are a number of things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. Read these tips on How to Improve your sleep .

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