We all know, or should know, that we should be drinking more water and less alcohol, exercising more, and eating less food that’s bad for us, whether we’re in good health or receiving hospice care. But there’s another ingredient that residents of Maquoketa should focus on, regular sleep.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Our lives are so busy and there are so many interruptions so it’s hard to get enough sleep and consistent sleep. Don’t forget that pain from medical conditions can make it tough to get to sleep and sometimes can keep you from having extended sleep.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care works with a variety of clients, some who sleep well, some who sleep well but don’t sleep enough, some who don’t sleep well at all.
It’s the latter group that can potentially experience the most physical and mental difficulties due to poor sleep.
A lack of sleep on a regular basis can spread into other areas of life, from decreasing coordination to increasing the risk of depression. Poor sleep could impair judgment and reduce productivity. Instead of concentrating on getting your work done, you may be fatigued, distracted, or nodding off.
People who are retired may still be impacted by poor sleep. This condition could increase the possibility of losing your balance or having a fall that causes injuries. It could increase confusion and decrease concentration and general mental performance. It can increase inflammation, decrease healing and immune response, and increase the risk of health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Some dementia studies have also established several connections between poor health and the risk of forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
One study shows that people who have already been diagnosed with dementia are more likely to have poor sleep. Other studies show that people who sleep less than five hours a night are twice as likely to contract Alzheimer’s disease, compared to those who sleep six to eight hours.
Another concluded that a consistent sleep schedule of at least six hours at age 50, 60, and 70 increased dementia risk by 30 percent, compared to those who regularly sleep seven hours.
Midlife sleep patterns seem especially critical for setting the foundation for dementia or not. It’s also the time that many people are sleeping less due to demands of family and career.
How much sleep is needed?
Interestingly, the recommended amount of nightly sleep does seem to vary from person to person.
The Mayo Clinic said age is one factor and is why most babies need large periods of sleep as well as naps throughout the day, a figure that generally decreases through life. But other factors can include past sleeping problems – if you have difficulty sleeping or you may go to sleep easier but may not necessarily have quality sleep.
Sleep patterns and energy cycles also may change as people age, including lighter sleep and shorter amounts of sleep. As we age, it’s also more common to wake up more often during the night. A higher BMI also increases the need for more sleep.
Other factors, such as sleep apnea, may influence sleep: it doesn’t matter how long you sleep, you always feel exhausted. Snoring, gagging, and stopping breathing are obvious signs of this.
Sleep patterns can also be affected by factors like too much sunlight, temperature, and environment (too noisy outside). Alcohol and pharmaceutical medication can alter patterns. A new factor is blue light from computers or mobile phones. These often convince your brain to start feeling active, which can be challenging for people who like to look at their phones before bedtime.
In the past, people were told that anything over six hours was better than anything under four hours, but more and more research seems to indicate that seven or more hours seems to be optimal.
Value of sleep
With all of these dire warnings about what happens when you get little or poor quality sleep, what about the benefits of getting enough sleep?
Think of the opposite of the warnings:
- Better immune response
- Better circulation
- Better mental response and cognition
- Lower risk for illness
- Lower risk for dementia
- Better control of emotions
- Better coordination and alertness
- Lower stress and anxiety
If you’re having difficulty going to sleep or waking up earlier than you think you should consider talking to your primary care provider. He or she may have suggestions to change some of these behaviors or habits, including making your environment more peaceful and darker.
He or she also may refer you to a provider who specializes in sleep disorders. They can find out more details about you, your health, and your sleeping patterns and make recommendations about ways you can improve your sleep to improve your life.
For those who want to learn more about sleep, the National Sleep Foundation is a good resource for education about good sleep health. The foundation also has organized National Sleep Awareness Week, which promotes sleep education and advocacy.
This year’s campaign runs March 13-19 and people are encouraged to learn more and also share this information with loved ones. The timing is in conjunction with Daylight Savings Time when many Americans lose an hour each spring.