How to Get That Sleep, Glorious Sleep

Jan 23, 2016 | Turning 60 and Beyond | 0 comments

If only I could just put my head down and have a little snooze I’d feel so much better. Is that you? Or, I’m tired, I just can’t fall asleep. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to sleep like babies.

Along with food, water and oxygen, sleep is something that all humans need to survive. It’s a vital indicator of our health and well-being. We spend one-third of our live doing it. Sleep affects how we look, feel and perform our daily activities.

As with so many other aspects of this delightful aging process, sleep problems are just one more. Everything I have read says that the recommended sleep for older adults is only seven to nine hours. That’s the recommended amount; it puzzles me how some people can get by on only four or five hours, but maybe they don’t realize they are sleep deprived because they are used to this.

I found this information from the National Sleep Foundation showing the different stages of sleep. It shows that the one-third of our life we spend sleeping is not unproductive.

NREM (75% of night): As we begin to fall asleep, we enter NREM sleep, which is composed of stages 1-4

Stage 1

  • Between being awake and falling asleep
  • Light sleep

Stage 2

  • Onset of sleep
  • Becoming disengaged from surroundings
  • Breathing and heart rate are regular
  • Body temperature drops (so sleeping in a cool room is helpful)

Stages 3 and 4

  • Deepest and most restorative sleep
  • Blood pressure drops
  • Breathing becomes slower
  • Muscles are relaxed
  • Blood supply to muscles increases
  • Tissue growth and repair occurs
  • Energy is restored
  • Hormones are released, such as: Growth hormone, essential for growth and development, including muscle development

REM (25% of night)

First occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs about every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night

  • Provides energy to brain and body
  • Supports daytime performance
  • Brain is active and dreams occur
  • Eyes dart back and forth
  • Body becomes immobile and relaxed, as muscles are turned off

In addition, levels of the hormone cortisol dip at bed time and increase over the night to promote alertness in morning.

Not getting enough sleep impairs your attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning and problem solving skills—in other words it dumbs you down. Here are some consequences of sleep that you may not realize.

It can make you look older. You may notice the puffy eyes and sallow skin but it can also lead to fine lines, dark circles and lackluster skin. That’s because when you don’t get enough sleep your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol which can break down collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic. It also decreases the amount of the human growth hormone released when we are sleeping.

You will crave more high-calorie snacks. Lack of sleep is related to an increase in hunger and appetite. Shortened sleep time is associated with decreases in the hormone leptin which signals satiety to the brain and suppresses appetite; and an increase in gherlin, the hormone that stimulates hunger. So not only does sleeplessness stimulate appetite it stimulates cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. So case in point, you can’t reach your weight loss goals without getting enough sleep.

Your anxiety will get worse. Whether you are a worrier or not, lack of sleep will turn you into an excessive worrier. Sleep deprivation amplifies anticipatory anxiety and you will  never solve the problems of the world in the middle of the night.

You will feel more aches and pains. Lack of sleep can impair your natural pain threshold and exacerbate those aches and pains.

Your sex drive has left the room. Sleep deprived men and women have depleted energy and increased tension which lowers libidos and interest in sex.

So what’s the answer. For many people, sleep is an automatic process; go to bed, close your eyes and your body knows what to do next—fall asleep. Those are the lucky ones!

Here’s a few suggestions that may help. It’s important to create a good sleep environment, and to wind your body and brain down. Everyone’s rituals  are different I’m sure.

  1. Keep your bedroom as clean as you can for good air quality and make sure the room is cool enough or warm enough whichever you are most comfortable in. This can be tricky if you have a partner that is the opposite of yourself.
  2. Remove all distractions.  That includes televisions,  I Pads and unfortunately our e-readers. That one last game of Scrabble or Candy Crush is not good for a good sleep environment. These games are meant to stimulate our brains at a time when we should be winding down. Secondly, the white-light that these devices give off trick the brain into thinking it’s still daytime. They mess with our internal clock and make it difficult fall asleep.
  3. Avoid caffeine in the latter part of the day or the evening. Everyone knows coffee has caffeine, but even black teas have it and some may have more. Dark chocolate, even though “they” say it’s good for you can keep be a culprit. Even some non prescription pain killers have caffeine as an ingredient, along with any weight loss pills.
  4. It’s not an old wives’ tale—drinking a glass of warm milk before bed will help you to sleep. Dairy products are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps in the production of the sleep inducing brain chemicals, serotonin and melatonin.

I know that if I don’t get enough sleep I am just not myself, and everyone around me suffers; I am grumpy and foggy and nothing goes right. During the week when I am at work, getting up at 5:30 in the morning I definitely need my seven to eight hours of good sleep. The weekend is my savior when I sleep an extra hour or two.

Comments? Do you get enough sleep? And what do you do to get to sleep?