Sleep's Health Benefits
A couple of years ago in this column, the subject of sleep was addressed, mostly from the standpoint that as we age, our sleep patterns change. A good night’s sleep is not as easy to obtain as it was in our youth. There are many causes for this and that was the subject of the previous article.
What this article is about is why it is important to get sleep, especially as we age. Sleep has many health benefits, just like exercise and a good diet. Following and in Table 1 are substantiated salutary effects of sleep.
Makes You More Alert
Most of us have experienced the difference in how we feel following a good night of sleep versus a poor one. Simply put, we feel refreshed. Many studies have proven that we are more alert and drive and think better following a good night of sleep.
Memory is Improved
Sleep does not prevent cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, but a good night of sleep has been shown to have a positive effect on short term memory. In fact, dreaming during sleep allows the brain to “consolidate” information and organize it so that it can be recalled at a later time. In other words, dreaming helps create memories.
Stress, Inflammation, Depression, Heart Disease and Stroke
It is well known that stress leads to high blood pressure that leads to heart attacks and stroke. People who get good sleep suffer from less stress than people who get less sleep. But, does stress cause loss of sleep or does good sleep reduce stress? In either case, it is known that less stress and more sleep result in less heart disease and stroke.
To complicate matters further, another closely related phenomenon is inflammation. When stress is high and sleep is lacking, the body reacts with an “inflammatory” process that leads to heart attacks and strokes. Depression is also more common in people who do not sleep well, although depression may keep people from sleeping well. Either way, people with depression have a higher risk of dying from heart disease. Regardless of which factor triggers outcome, these complications are closely interrelated, and people who get less sleep are more likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke.
As we age, weight control becomes a larger and more constant battle. A good night’s sleep is associated with better weight control because people who are tired crave more carbohydrates and other fattening foods. People who get more sleep frequently have a better diet and have less trouble with the battle of the bulge.
Prevent the Common Cold
Information published in a recent issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, reports a fascinating study where 153 people’s sleep patterns were analyzed. These same people then volunteered to be exposed to the common cold virus. People with less than seven hours of sleep on average during the two weeks before virus exposure were three times as likely to catch the cold as those with eight or more hours. Sleep is known to preserve immune factors and this is the likely explanation for this protection.
Restoration and Repair
Sleep is a time when the cells of the body produce proteins that restore and repair damage that occurs from stress, u-v light exposure, exercise, pollutants and a host of other things that we encounter when we are awake. More sleep allows more time for repair and restoration. It is that simple.
The older a person gets, the more difficult it is to get between seven and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. For tips on how to get better sleep, see Table 2. Bottom line, try to get sleep; it is good for you as you get older.
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- Makes you more alert
- Improves memory
- Reduces heart attack and stroke
- Helps weight control
- Prevents the common cold
- Repairs cellular damage
- Establish a regular schedule (go to bed and get up at approximately the same time each day).
- Avoid stimulants before bed, such as caffeine, alcohol and some medications.
- Keep the ambient temperature comfortable (cool rather than warm).
- Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet.
- If sleep doesn’t come in 20 to 30 minutes, get up and go to another room for a while. Return to your bed later.
- A light snack of milk, cheese or other protein prior to going to sleep can be helpful.
- Keep your bed clean and wrinkle free.
- Use the toilet before going to bed.