Tag Archives: Sleep

Getting Older, Sleeping Less

Insomnia is like a thief in the night, robbing millions — especially those older than 60 — of much-needed restorative sleep. As the king laments in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part 2”: O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee. That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down, And steep my senses in forgetfulness?

The causes of insomnia are many, and they increase in number and severity as people age. Yet the problem is often overlooked during routine checkups, which not only diminishes the quality of an older person’s life but may also cause or aggravate physical and emotional disorders, including symptoms of cognitive loss.

Most everyone experiences episodic insomnia, a night during which the body seems to have forgotten how to sleep a requisite number of hours, if at all. As distressing as that may seem at the time, it pales in comparison to the effects on people for whom insomnia — difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or awakening much too early — is a nightly affair.

A survey done in 1995 by researchers at the National Institute on Aging among more than 9,000 people aged 65 and older living in three communities revealed that 42 percent reported difficulty with both falling asleep and staying asleep. The numbers affected are likely to be much larger now that millions spend their pre-sleep hours looking at electronic screens that can disrupt the body’s biological rhythms.

Insomnia, Dr. Alon Y. Avidan says, “is a symptom, not a diagnosis” that can be a clue to an underlying and often treatable health problem and, when it persists, should be taken seriously. Dr. Avidan is director of the sleep clinic at the University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine.

So-called transient insomnia that lasts less than a month may result from a temporary problem at work or an acute illness; short-term insomnia lasting one to six months may stem from a personal financial crisis or loss of a loved one. Several months of insomnia are distressing enough, but when insomnia becomes chronic, lasting six months or longer, it can wreak serious physical, emotional and social havoc.

In addition to excessive daytime sleepiness, which can be dangerous in and of itself, Dr. Avidan reports that chronic insomnia “may result in disturbed intellect, impaired cognition, confusion, psychomotor retardation, or increased risk for injury.” Understandably, it is often accompanied by depression either as a cause or result of persistent insomnia. Untreated insomnia also increases the risk of falls and fractures, a study of nursing home residents showed.

There are two types of insomnia. One, called primary insomnia, results from a problem that occurs only or mainly during sleep, like obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome (which afflicts 15 to 20 percent of older adults), periodic limb movements or a tendency to act out one’s dreams physically, which can be an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease.

Unless noted by their bed partners, people with primary sleep disorders may not know why their sleep is disrupted. An accurate diagnosis often requires a professional sleep study: spending a night or two in a sleep lab hooked up to instruments that record respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, bodily movements and time spent in the various stages of sleep.

The other, more common type of insomnia is secondary to an underlying medical or psychiatric problem; the side effects of medications; behavioral factors like ill-timed exposure to caffeine, alcohol or nicotine or daytime naps; or environmental disturbances like jet lag or excessive noise or light — especially the blue light from an electronic device — in the bedroom.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

The War On Work and Sleep

There are a lot of advantages to earning more money, but getting a good night’s sleep may not be one of them.

It turns out that, in general, the more money people make, the less they sleep. That’s been true for decades in the United States, and in other countries as well. On average, adults earning the highest incomes — around $98,000 for a family of four — sleep 40 minutes less than people in the lowest-income families. And among short sleepers — those who are in the bottom 10 percent of nightly rest — high-income people are overrepresented, according to the government survey that sleep researchers trust most.

Sleeping too little is really bad for your health. Researchers have demonstrated that, for most people, sleeping less than six hours a night results in cognitive impairment. Poor sleep is also associated with a number of other health problems, and an increased risk of dying in a car accident.

In general, the factor that seems the most closely tied with how much sleep people get is how much they work. More hours of work tend to crowd out sleep. People who work two jobs sleep the least of anyone, according to a recent study, and are most likely to be in the bottom 10 percent of sleepers, sometimes called “short sleepers.”

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

What Do You Know About Sleep?

Each year in the U.S., Sleep Awareness Week occurs in the first week of March, when Daylight Saving Time begins and most Americans lose an hour of sleep. The observance is a national public education and awareness campaign to promote the importance of sleep to one’s physical health, mental health and overall well-being. With lots to do throughout a busy day, it can be tempting to cut corners on sleep, but doing so can have damaging effects on many aspects of your life.

With between 50 and 70 million Americans suffering from some sort of sleep disorder or occasional sleeping problem, it’s clear that a lack of quality sleep is a major public health issue. However, many people don’t realize just how important sleep is to their health. While we sleep, our bodies secrete hormones that positively affect our mood, energy, memory, concentration, and immune functions. So it’s important to get an adequate amount of sleep each night in order to maintain your health.

Getting adequate sleep provides benefits such as:

Less stress – Without enough rest, the body functions on high alert. Increased blood pressure and the production of stress hormones can make it harder to fall asleep and recharge the next night. Good sleep enables you to manage your stress levels better.

Daytime alertness – With enough rest, you’ll have higher levels of energy and mental acuity for performing complex mental and physical tasks. Sleep-deprived people cannot focus well on tasks. Sleep helps repair cells damaged by stress, fatigue and muscle strain. It improves concentration and memory function.

Better mental health – Getting enough sleep helps regulate levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects our mood. Low levels of serotonin can lead to depression and other behavioral health disorders.

Weight control – Lack of sleep adversely affects levels of hormones that regulate our appetite. This can contribute to being overweight or obese.

A healthier heart – Blood pressure and cholesterol levels are higher when you’re sleep-deprived, and these are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

A safer day – With enough sleep, you can better avoid auto and workplace accidents caused by drowsiness. Testing has shown that with a driving simulator or a hand-eye coordination task, sleep-deprived people perform just as badly as intoxicated people.

A stronger immune system – Adequate sleep helps your body respond to infection, which can enable you to avoid colds, flu, and other viral and bacterial infections.

To read more, click here.

Other resources regarding the importance of sleep:

No, Mornings Don’t Make You Moral

Snoozers Are, In Fact, Losers

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary