The secret to keeping your mind and body young and vibrant at any age: getting your beauty sleep.
Contrary to popular belief, older adults need more — not less — slumber, according to an April 2017 study published in the journal Neuron. In fact, lack of quality shut-eye among senior citizens can raise their risk of memory loss and suffering wide range of mental and physical disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and stroke.
“Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” Matthew Walker, senior author of the study and professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, stated in a press release. “We’ve done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep, and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that.”
“I am not surprised by these findings,” Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute, tells Yahoo Beauty. “A great deal of the research that promoted the idea that older people need less sleep was based on surveys of older people’s sleeping habits, and did not consider how they felt about the quality of their sleep and their daytime alertness.”
In fact, Oexman encourages his elderly patients to spend extra time under the sheets to “get the same amount of sleep they got when they were younger, but that does not guarantee that they will be getting the quality of sleep they need.”
Oexman, who is also a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, explains that there are a few common risk factors for inadequate sleep among all generations: They include depression, alcohol use, and pain, as well as side effects from certain medications.
The study authors pointed out that “dissatisfying sleep” can began when adults enter their 30s, and it can spiral into cognitive and physical ailments once someone hits middle age. Oexman adds that the previous risk factors, along with stress — caused by one’s career, parenting, and caring for aging parents, for example — contribute to this problem.
“As we age, we also see changes in our ability to manage shifts in our circadian rhythm,” Oexman continues. “This happens as we fluctuate our bedtimes and wake times to accommodate work schedules, kids’ schedules, and recreational activities on the weekend.”
However, sleeping issues may also occur because “our aging brain may not be able to function as it did when we were younger,” adds Oexman. “For some people, this may happen quicker than others and may be influenced by environmental factors, exercise, eating habits, drug use, and alcohol.”
To determine the quality of your sleep, he suggests asking yourself the following questions:
- How easy is it for you to wake up in the morning? (“If you hit the snooze alarm multiple times, you are not getting the quantity and/or quality of sleep you need,” says Oexman.)
- Would it be easy for you to fall back to sleep one hour after getting out of bed?
- Do you fall asleep at inappropriate times — such as while watching a movie, at a play or socializing with friends at home?
- Do you often fall asleep while watching TV or reading in the evening after work?
“The best indicator of quality sleep is how you feel in the daytime,” says Oexman. (Hint: You should feel alert, and not just because you’ve had three cups of coffee.)
The study author Walker notes that non-pharmaceutical interventions — including electrical stimulation to amplify brain waves during sleep and acoustic tones that act like a metronome to slow brain rhythms — are being investigated as means of enhancing quality shut-eye instead of reaching for sleeping pills at night.
“The American College of Physicians has acknowledged that sleeping pills should not be the first line, knee-jerk response to sleep problems,” Walker stated. “Sleeping pills sedate the brain, rather than help it sleep naturally. We must find better treatments for restoring healthy sleep in older adults, and that is now one of our dedicated research missions.”
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