We all realize that sleep is important since not going to sleep for a long time makes us feel terrible and getting a good night’s sleep makes us feel like we can tackle the world.

Scientists have discovered that sleep is important for memory and learning. We have difficulty learning new information if the night before we had an interrupted or bad night’s sleep. Surprisingly, we also will have trouble retaining what we learned if the following night we don’t sleep well.

It seems that sleep has a role in our immune function and metabolism. Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system increasing the chance of becoming sick. Long-term effects of sleep deprivation include cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and even early mortality. Lack of enough sleep heightens the perception of pain, and plays a role that increases the risk of depression.

Not getting enough sleep has dangerous short-term effects. Sleep deprivation can impair hand-eye coordination as much as being intoxicated. If you are driving and have trouble keeping your eyes focused, can’t stop yawning, can’t remember driving the last few miles, are day dreaming and having wandering thoughts, have trouble holding your head up or are drifting in and out of lanes, you should stop and rest before driving further. If you are drowsy at all during the day, even during boring activities, you have not been getting enough sleep. We never adapt well to being sleep deprived, even though we may think we have become used to a sleep–deprived schedule, we will still suffer with less than optimal judgment, and reaction times.

How much sleep we need depends on our age and may be impacted by health conditions as well. However, many people struggle with getting enough sleep or have trouble falling asleep. Exercise helps facilitate sleep, but it should be done earlier in the day. To facilitate a good night’s sleep, avoid napping during the day. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and heavy meals in the evening. Stick to a bedtime schedule of going to bed and waking at the same time, even on weekends. Avoid stressful or anxiety-filled activities before bed and bright lights. Relaxing activities before bed can facilitate falling asleep, such as a warm shower or bath. However, the use of electronics may make it harder to go to sleep because the type of light emitted from the screen has a stimulating effect on the brain. To create a restful sleep environment it is important to have a clean, quiet, dark, cool room, with fresh air, and a comfortable bed and pillow.

A good sleep is important not only for optimal health, but important to help one achieve personal, family and professional goals. Start taking the necessary steps to get a good night’s sleep and take care of your health.

National Sleep Awareness Week

Conditions that affect sleep as you age by the National Sleep Foundation

While many people think sleep needs decrease with age, recommended sleep duration actually remains fairly constant with only a minor drop in the upper-end of the spectrum. Still, for many adults age 65 and older, achieving the suggested seven to eight hours each night feels like a tall order. If a full night’s sleep is elusive, it could be due to one of these medical conditions.

Insomnia

Older adults wake up throughout the night more often than any other age group. These bouts of sleeplessness may be related to a change in circadian rhythm, which can cause people to feel sleepy in the early evening and alert in the early morning hours. Cutting back on caffeine consumption and nixing long daytime naps can help keep circadian rhythm on track.

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Around 90 million Americans snore at night. While some occasional snoring may not be a major concern, loud snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where breathing becomes temporarily impaired and blood pressure rises. Untreated OSA can significantly affect your sleep quality. A doctor can help determine if an individual has OSA and offer appropriate treatment options since OSA is a risk factor for heart disease, headaches, and depression.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

The twitching and jerking of limbs during the night is no recipe for sleep. One in 10 adults have Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), and the chance of developing this disorder increases with age. Certain medications that older adults take can also make RLS worse, including those prescribed for high blood pressure, heart conditions and depression. To mitigate RLS, a doctor may suggest cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, taking an iron supplement, and creating a targeted exercise regimen.

Other Common Illnesses

Asthma, diabetes, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can all negatively impact the ease of breathing, thereby making sleep more challenging for older adults. Diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis may have an impact as well. However, healthy sleep habits can help mitigate these conditions’ negative impacts on sleep. These include maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, exercising regularly, and getting exposure to light early in the day to help reset your body’s clock.

Contact the reporter 

tmcquerrey@payson.com

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