Adequate, quality sleep is essential for our health and wellbeing. Sleep helps the body to heal and restore itself. It is vital for brain and heart health, mood and physical function, and a healthy immune system.
However, as we age, many people report issues related to the amount of time they sleep and their overall sleep quality. Older adults tend to wake more frequently and spend less time in deep sleep. Although total sleep time is decreased only slightly, from 6.5 to 7 hours/night, the perception of sleep time and quality will differ compared to younger adults. Older adults may have difficulties falling and staying asleep, spend more time in light sleep, and frequently wake due to anxiety, pain, discomfort, or the need to use the restroom.
Many factors impact our ability to have a night of quality sleep. One often-overlooked factor is the quality of our health. As we age, the likelihood of developing a chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and obesity, sharply increases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 85 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, while 60 percent live with at least two chronic illnesses. Individuals living with chronic health conditions are more likely to report getting less than six hours of sleep, have poor sleep quality, and experience a sleep disorder.
As we sleep, the body undergoes a series of changes to repair cells and release molecules such as hormones and proteins. During sleep, the body releases the protein cytokines, which are crucial for a healthy immune system. Without adequate sleep, the body produces fewer cytokines making you more susceptible to illness and disease. Therefore, getting quality sleep is even more important than ever to ensure your immune system will be healthy and function effectively.
Not getting adequate sleep not only impacts your immune system, but it can increase inflammation, blood pressure, insulin resistance, cortisol levels, contribute to weight gain and heart disease. If individuals' have difficulties sleeping due to insomnia, sleep apnea, or other sleep disorders, they should speak with their healthcare provider.
You can dramatically increase the quality of your sleep by having good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene simply refers to your sleep habits. Being mindful of your sleep environment and your behaviors throughout the day, especially those before bedtime, can significantly impact your sleep quality.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Have a consistent bedtime. Go to bed early enough to get at least 7 hours of sleep. Limit naps to no more than 20 minutes, or avoid altogether.
- Go to bed at about the same time each night. Awake the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime. Caffeine will persist for several hours after consumption and can interfere with your sleep.
- Create an optimal sleep environment: Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature, between 60-67 oF.
- Turn off electronic devices at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime. Electronic devices emit blue light, reducing melatonin levels, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Get the recommended amount of exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night and help you have a quality sleep.
Remember, making just a few adjustments to your sleep habits can help you get a goodnight's sleep, improve your health and quality of life.
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