Scientists now believe that sufficient sleep may be the fountain of youth we have all been searching for.
Researchers from the University of California argue that a lack of sleep in older populations elevates the risk of memory loss as well as mental and physical disorders.
As we age the ability to delve into a deep sleep decreases substantially. We experience more wakefulness, frequent bathroom trips and difficulty actually falling asleep to begin with.
The importance of sleep
Although seniors may not feel like they are sleeping less than their younger days, the level of sleep they are achieving may be lighter.
There are four stages of sleep with non-rapid eye movement (NREM) or slow wave sleep being the deepest.
“During slow wave sleep the brain is less responsive to external stimuli,” says Dr Ryan Harvey from House Call Doctor.
“This stage is considered the deepest sleep phase and is the hardest to wake up from.”
Though rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the most well-known phase, slow wave sleep is one of the most important stages for cell regeneration and health.
“Slow wave sleep causes a decrease in respiratory rate, delta waves (slow brain waves), lowered blood pressure, slower breathing and immobility of the body,” says Dr Harvey.
“This stage allows the body to direct focus towards regenerating tissue, recharging energy stores, strengthening the immune system and is related to certain types of learning and memory.”
Why are we sleeping less?
The body's ability to regulate neurochemcials that stabilise sleep declines with age. This decline re-sults in difficulty transitioning from asleep to awake.”
Older populations tend to spend more time in light sleep; stages one or two. They may find them-selves waking throughout the night, having trouble falling asleep, or waking feeling just as tired.
Sleep deterioration as we age has been causally related to memory issues, Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and stroke.
The less time we spend in slow wave sleep the more likely we are to struggle with memory related issues.
How to sleep better
Even in our golden years sufficient sleep is key to remaining youthful and maintaining memory and cognitive abilities.
Here are three easy techniques you can try to assist with falling into a deep sleep:
- Gentle sound simulation
The calming sounds of waterfalls or rainforests can help synchronise brain waves in older adults. This assists with falling into the slow wave sleep and improves memory recall.
- Switch off your devices before bed
Watching TV or playing with smartphones and tablets before bed can reduce sleep quality. The light of screens inhibits a hormone production vital to the sleep cycle.
- Food and exercise
Set a sleep routine, avoid alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods later in the day, and exercise regularly.
Ozcare allied health professionals can help you to create healthy meal and exercise plans that fit into your lifestyle.
“Our dietitians and exercise physiologists work as a team with you to develop a plan that takes into consideration your goals and existing health conditions,” said coordinator of allied health Elaine Spence.
“Taking a holistic look at your life and making changes that become part of your day to day routine can not only improve your sleep, it can positively effect your entire wellbeing.”
If you are struggling with sleep related issues it may also be worth a visit from your GP. There are some forms of medication which inhibit your ability to sleep as well as underlying medical condi-tions. If lifestyle changes don’t work for you it may warrant a visit to your doctor.