The Importance of Quality Sleep As We Age

Quality sleep is essential for maintaining optimal mind and body health at any age. Although many seniors do sleep fewer hours each night than the average non-senior, seniors need just as much sleep, if not more than a young or middle-aged adult. According to the National Sleep Foundation, that means seniors should be averaging between seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

The Top 5 Benefits of Quality Sleep for Older Adults

Sleep is the body’s much-needed time for rest and rejuvenation and a period in which the body and mind recover from the day’s stressors. If allowed to do its job, sleep can have numerous benefits for seniors. Below are the top five.

1. Good Sleep Keeps the Immune System Strong

For decades, researchers have been studying the link between physical health and quality of sleep. What they’ve found is that the relationship is strong and works both ways.

Per the findings of the studies, lack of sleep puts unnecessary stress on the body. Stress triggers inflammation, which weakens the immune system and leads to chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. On the other hand, during periods of quality sleep, the body performs restorative functions, such as protein synthesis, muscle rehabilitation, and tissue repair, strengthening the immune system and preventing chronic disease.

2. Quality Sleep Can Improve Mood

Like physical health, sleep quality and mental health are closely related and can significantly influence one another. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, and stress can all contribute to sleep problems. Likewise, lack of sleep can cause a person to feel agitated, emotional, and groggy the next day. If sleep problems persist, an older adult is at risk of developing mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. To stave off mood disorders or manage existing conditions, seniors should get between seven to eight hours of sleep every night.

3. Adequate Sleep Can Improve Concentration and Memory

Given that sleep plays a major role in a person’s mental well-being, sleep also influences cognitive function. It is well documented that lack of sleep leads to shortened attention span, memory problems, and short-term cognitive impairment. Poor sleep quality is also associated with poor long-term memory and a weakened ability to make rational decisions. Though research shows that several factors contribute to dementia and memory loss, poor sleep throughout one’s adulthood is a significant risk factor. These findings alone underscore the importance of good sleep for older adults.

4. Restful Sleep Helps With Weight Management

Over the past several decades, researchers have noticed a steady decline in sleep quality among Americans. At the same time, they’ve noted a steady increase in the rates of obesity. The significance of the co-occurrence of these two trends was not lost on scholars, many of whom then began to hypothesize on the relationship between weight and sleep.

While the exact nature of the relationship between the two remains up for debate, existing research shows that there is, in fact, a connection between quality sleep and a healthy body mass index. There are several hypotheses as to why this is.

First, sleep deprivation can cause dysregulation of ghrelin and leptin, two neurotransmitters that affect appetite. Ghrelin promotes hunger, while leptin communicates feelings of fullness. In sleep-deprived individuals, levels of ghrelin are higher, and levels of leptin are lower.

Second, many studies have indicated that sleep-deprived individuals tend to prefer foods high in carbohydrates and calories. Third and finally, several findings show that poor sleep is often associated with metabolic dysregulation. Why this is so is not fully understood. However, researchers hypothesize that it is because lack of sleep means more time awake, which means increased opportunities to eat.

The bottom line is that quality sleep for older adults is essential for helping them maintain a healthy weight. Likewise, a healthy weight is a key to enjoying optimal physical health and overall higher quality of life.

5. Quality Sleep Can Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

As more research on the importance of quality sleep is being done, scientists are learning more about the glymphatic system, which rids the brain of toxic waste and debris. Researchers are finding that said system is 10 times more active during periods of sleep than during times of wakefulness.

Middle-aged adults and seniors should care about this for one main reason: The toxins that get shuttled out of the brain during sleep times are a major contributing cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Seeing as sleep is necessary to the function of the brain’s waste removal system, it is also a necessary Alzheimer’s prevention measure.

Sleep problems are normal, but that doesn’t mean you should accept them. Given the very real benefits of quality sleep, you should take steps to improve your sleep quality today.

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