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Erratic Sleep Today Can Hurt You When You Are Older
Health

Erratic Sleep Today Can Hurt You When You Are Older

Here is a wakeup call to all the young and middle-aged adults - do not take your sleep for granted as doing so could set you up for a difficult old age.

Yes, that is right. Those of you, who think that your young bodies can manage with any quality and quantity of rest, please reassess your stock after going through the following facts.

Global research strongly points at a strong correlation between poor sleeping patterns in midlife and an accelerated memory loss in the later years. It is important to note here that poor sleep hygiene refers not just to getting too little of sleep but also too much of it.

Those who slept for five hours or less, or nine hours or more per day, in midlife or even in later years were seen to suffer more from memory problems as compared to those who had regular and good sleeping habits - with about seven hours on an average every day. The memory loss experienced by the study participants was judged to be equivalent to about two additional years of age.

Participants whose daily sleep durations had changed by two hours or more were prone to sleep-related disorders.

The correlation between sleep & health

Irrespective of how old you are, sleeping well is vital to your physical, mental and emotional well-being. A good night's sleep helps improve concentration, memory function, cognitive abilities, as well as allows your body to repair the cell damage that occurred during the course of the day. Resting properly also re-energizes your immune system, which assists you in preventing and combating diseases.

More and more physicians are increasingly equating one's sleep quality and pattern with one's overall health. A poor, fragmented sleep is often seen to be a symptom of deeper health issues just like fever and persistent headaches.

Ageing and insomnia

As one ages, one's sleep in any case takes some form of beating. One of the primary reasons behind this is that as you age your body produces lower levels of growth hormone. Reduction in amounts of growth hormone secreted is likely to be experienced as a reduction in the duration of the slow wave or the deep sleep stage (NREM stage), where your brain is completely at rest.

A ripple effect is that your body produces less melatonin, which means that you will experience greater sleep fragmentation or more rapid sleep cycles. The consequence will be that you will wake up more often during the night.

As your circadian rhythm, or your body's internal clock that governs your sleep, changes, you may also find yourself wanting to retire to bed earlier in the evening and also waking up earlier in the morning - sometimes in the middle of the night.

The age-induced disturbances in sleep rhythm may also mean that you may have to spend longer hours in bed at night or take a nap during the daytime to make up for the shortfall in rest.

Insomnia & its ill-effects on the ageing process

While it is established that ageing will result in altered and more difficult sleeping patterns for most people, what needs to be highlighted is the reverse - how your present-day poor sleeping practices can set you up for unseen, unwanted and unexpected problems during your advanced years.

Older adults who have not slept well as young or middle-aged adults are more likely to suffer from depression, attention deficit syndrome, memory problems and excessive daytime drowsiness. The expected impact of these problems are - higher frequency of night time falls, increased sensitivity to pain and disturbances, and a surge in the usage of over-the-counter sleep prescriptions and aids.

Insufficient sleep over the years can also lead to several serious health problems in older adults, including an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, weight management problems, and a greater chance of developing certain types of cancers - for example, breast cancer in women.

Also, given the importance of preserving and maintaining one's memory in the advanced years, sleeping well becomes even more important. While, as mentioned earlier, sleep deprivation, sleep excess or sleep inconsistency can lead to an earlier onset of a compromised memory function, what is even more disturbing are the findings of another study that links chronic sleep problems with a higher risk and an earlier onset of dementias and Alzheimer's disease in older adults.

Some tips for improving your sleep patterns
● Limit alcohol, nicotine and caffeine intake - all stimulants for the nervous system
● Do not sleep on a hungry stomach but at the same time never overload your digestive system
● Limit fluid intake a couple of hours before you sleep
● Work out your sleeping environment to eliminate disturbances like noise, light, etc
● If your schedule does not permit 7 to 8 hours of nighttime sleep and you have some time in hand during the day, go for a short (30 minutes to 1 hour) afternoon nap
● Begin your day with a fitness routine - exercise promotes the release of sleep-benefiting hormones
● Develop relaxing bedtime rituals like breathing and meditation
● Follow a consistent sleeping schedule with respect to the time you go to bed and the time when you wake up
● Expose yourself to sunlight for about an hour or two during the day - this will lead to higher melatonin levels, leading to a reduction in sleep fragmentation

Words of wisdom

Old age comes packed with a host of issues for everyone. Why increase the baggage with damaging habits? Getting your fill of sleep today will not only help you later but will also have a definite positive impact on your present.

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