Poor Sleep quality Can Lead to Health Problems

The majority of us will shift to daylight saving time this Sunday, March 14th. As a result of this change, we’ll immediately enjoy more natural light later in the day and into the evening. The downside is that this change can disrupt our normal sleep patterns—patterns that may have already become fragmented with age.  As older adults, we are often more sensitive to our sleep environments or may have chronic conditions that interfere with our sleep.

Possible Immediate Consequences

Some may believe that older people need less sleep. But according to Sleep Education, most older adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If we aren’t getting sufficient sleep on a regular basis, it could affect our health. Some of the immediate consequences of poor sleep quality could include memory problems, falls, grumpiness, and the likelihood of making mistakes.

Possible Long-term Consequences

One of the possible long-term effects of poor sleep quality is the increased likelihood that we will be less able to fight off illnesses and infections. Regular, deep sleep helps our immune system fight disease. In addition, poor sleep habits have been associated with weight gain. The Mayo Clinic reports that limited sleep can cause an “increase hunger and appetite — in particular for calorie-dense foods high in carbohydrates.” Further, lack of sleep can cause more fatigue leading to a decrease in exercise. Another problem with poor sleep habits is the increased risk for dementia. In a recent Swedish study, older adults who frequently woke up too early were “linked to a doubled risk for later dementia.” Neuroscientists at the University of California Berkeley assert that fragmented sleep leads to an earlier build-up of plaque in the brain and an increased likelihood of Alzheimer’s Disease. They argue that regular, deep, restorative sleep is the best prevention method of this devastating disease.

Improving Sleep Quality

Common suggestions for improving our sleep quality include getting exercise and sunlight during the day and keeping our bedrooms cool and dark. In addition, staying away from phones, computers, and other screens before going to sleep is often advised. Avoiding late afternoon or evening caffeine and alcohol can also help. I personally enjoy an occasional glass of red wine in the evening. I’ve noticed that I can fall asleep quickly after having some wine. However, I also tend to wake up a few hours after I go to sleep and have more difficulty getting a solid 6-8 hours of rest. Knowing this doesn’t mean I’m going to completely give up my evening glass of red wine (I live in wine country), but I am willing to enjoy a glass of wine less often in exchange for a good night’s sleep. If you are not getting enough sleep and suggested tweaks don’t improve your sleep duration and quality, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about how to get a better night’s sleep.    

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