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Sleep and Old Age

Posted Jul 01 2009 5:01pm

category_bug_journal2.gif Sloppy language or not, I can't sleep for shit. I struggle to stay awake past 8PM; sometimes I win but more often the sandman prevails. When he has the upper hand, I awaken at 3AM ready for bear and unless you count more time on the computer as a good thing, there's not much to do in those wee hours.

Plus, since all my energy - physical and mental - is concentrated in the first half of my day, getting out of bed at 3AM doesn't leave much time to accomplish anything. By noon, I'm worn out and am sometimes sleepy enough at mid-afternoon for a nap – not that having one affects the sandman's arrival time.

Nor do I sleep soundly. On average, I wake once to pee and two or three more times for no good reason.

All this led me to grab two of the many pamphlets available to attendees at the recent Age Boom Academy – one a report on what researchers have learned about sleep and age, the other a how-to on improving quality of sleep. A few facts:

• More than half of all people aged 65 and older experience sleep problems

• Daytime sleepiness and napping increase with age

• Obesity, alcohol, smoking, nasal congestion and estrogen depletion in menopause increase the risk for sleeplessness

• Insomnia and disturbed sleep have a negative impact on mood, attention, cognitive function, memory and can cause balance problems leading to falls

Researchers have come late to studying sleep, particularly in elders, and it is not well understood. Geriatrician, Robert N. Butler, writes in the preface to one of the pamphlets:

”Quality of sleep is tied to quality of life and, indeed, to the genesis of disease. Sleep may play a salient role in increasing vulnerability to illness and disability. For example, sleep deprivation produces a prediabetic state, and evidence suggests that sleep is important in maintenance of immune function...

“While we do not fully understand its myriad functions, we know that sleep is both restorative and protective.”

Certain medications, diseases, breathing disorders, mental illness and hypnotics prescribed for sleeplessness can cause insomnia and sleep interruption, and should be handled with the help of a physician. Short-term sleep problems such as due to grieving, will take care of themselves in time.

Having none of those indications, I'm personally concerned with not being able to sleep well for no reason. I already follow most of the researchers' suggestions for a better night's sleep, but now I'm going to add these:

• Change my daily hour-long walk to the late afternoon (rather than the morning) but at least three hours before bed

• Eat my largest meal at midday rather than in the evening

• Use the bed only for sleep and sex; no more television or reading in bed (this will be the hard one to follow)

If the statistics are correct, half of you reading this have sleep problems. Here are links to three useful pamphlets about sleep from the International Longevity Center – USA which you can download in PDF format for free.

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