Believe it or not, if you are not getting enough sleep at night you are putting yourself at risk for many problems. "Sleep-deprived people often don't realize their vulnerability to sleepiness, and therein rests the self-denial," explains Dr. Joseph Kaplan, co-director of the Sleep Disorder at the Mayo Clinic. The risks of long-term sleep deprivation include:
* High blood pressure
* Heart attack
* Heart failure
* Psychiatric problems such as depression
* Mental impairment
* Increased mortality risk
"The most worrisome part is that many people are too tired to realize how sleep-deprived they are." Some signs that you are sleep deprived include:
* Increased sleepiness and fatigue; napping easily
* Poor attention and motivation span, especially for boring tasks requiring sustained concentration.
* Memory lapses
* Decreased initiative, judgment, ability, and decision making skills
* Increased irritability
* Difficulty waking up in the morning, or needing an alarm clock to wake up
* Lack of concentration
* Feelings of moodiness, irritability, depression, or anxiety
* Falling asleep within 5 minutes of going to bed
For most adults, 7 to 8 hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, which is what people were getting until 1913 when Thomas Edison perfected the tungsten filament incandescent light bulb - artificial light. Current thought is that older adults need as much, if not more, sleep than middle-aged adults. Unfortunately, as you get older, you might find that getting a good night's sleep becomes more difficult. You might find that you have a harder time staying asleep, sleep lighter, or wake up three or four times each night. As you age, you're more likely to develop health problems that could cause your sleep patterns to change such as Arthritis, Heartburn, Diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer's Disease, Incontinence, Respiratory Diseases, and Heart Disease. Some conditions, such as arthritis, cause pain, which can make falling asleep difficult. Also chronic pain might cause you to wake yourself up if you adjust your sleep position during the night. Other conditions such as diabetes, leg edema, enlarged prostate or incontinence, might cause you to urinate more frequently. Add to that the fact that your bladder capacity shrinks as you age, and you might find yourself getting up at night to use the toilet more often, making it hard to get back to sleep. Other conditions, such as heart disease and COPD, can cause breathing difficulties. If you have trouble maintaining steady, rhythmic breathing while you sleep, you might wake up several times in the middle of the night. Waking up like this may prevent you from reaching deep sleep.
As you get older, you're more likely to be taking some type of medication. Some common medications can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, including:
Antidepressants, Beta-blockers and Calcium channel blockers (to treat heart disease), Bronchodilators (to treat lung diseases), Corticosteroids (to treat lung diseases and/or arthritis), Decongestants (many cold & flu or allergy medications), and Gastrointestinal drugs.
The difference between the amount of sleep we need and the amount of sleep we get is called "sleep debt." If you need eight hours a night but only get seven, you have a sleep debt of one hour. However, Dr. Stanley Coren points out in his book, Sleep Thieves, if this continues for a week, you now have an accumulated sleep debt of seven hours. The effect is similar to losing all seven hours in the same night. The good news is that you can repay the sleep debt. So if you fall behind, a few consecutive nights of full, uninterrupted sleep will usually return you to full function. Here are some tips to help you get a good night's rest:
* Avoid large meals within two hours of bedtime. If you are hungry, a light snack is a good choice.
* Stay away from stimulants such as, caffeine and/or nicotine.
* Go to bed at a regular time and avoid napping late in the afternoon.
* Exercise during the day to reduce stress hormones, but avoid anything too strenuous within three hours of bedtime.
* Hide your clock. A big, illuminated digital clock may cause you to focus on the time and make you feel stressed and anxious.
www.sleepdex.org/deficit.htm, May 10, 2007
www.davidposen.com/pages/tips/tips2.html, May 24, 2006
www.helpguide.org/life/sleeping.htm May 10, 2007
Article written by Easter Seals Adult Day Services located at 101 E. Baltimore Street in Hagerstown. Contact them at 301-745-3828 or visit www.gwbr.easterseals.com.