Sleep is so important to our overall health that total sleep deprivation has been proven to be fatal: lab rats denied the chance to rest die within two to three weeks. Without adequate rest, the brain’s ability to function quickly deteriorates. The brain works harder to counteract sleep deprivation effects but operates less effectively; concentration levels drop and memory becomes impaired. Similarly, the brain’s ability to problem solve is greatly impaired. Decision-making abilities are compromised, and the brain falls into rigid thought patterns that make it difficult to generate new problem-solving ideas. Insufficient rest can also cause hallucinations.
Sleep & AgingOver 50% of people over 64 years old suffer from some type of sleep disorder. One of the biggest sleeping problems the elderly experience is the inability to get deep, restorative sleep. Although they tend to sleep just as much as they did when they were younger, the elderly don’t get as much quality sleep, meaning that they often suffer from fatigue and daytime drowsiness. The main reason for this is that older people don’t get as much Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the deepest, most restorative sleep phase.
Weight ChangesDramatic weight changes, especially weight gain, are common effects of sleep deprivation because quality of sleep affects hormone levels. Leptin is a hormone that affects feelings of fullness and satisfaction after a meal, and ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates appetites. When you suffer from sleep deprivation, your body’s levels of leptin fall and ghrelin levels increase. This means that you end up feeling hungrier without really feeling satisfied by what you eat, causing you to eat more and gain weight.
Building Your Sleep EnvironmentOne of the most important aspects to getting adequate sleep is to create a sleep environment free from distractions. Similarly, your body needs to be prepared for sleep, meaning that both your brain and muscle activity need to be slowed down. Along with sleeping in comfortable surroundings, ensure that you eliminate objects that stimulate the brain. Other steps to getting good sleep include:
- Exercise early: Intense physical activity later in the day provides too much stimulation in the evening.
- Maintain consistency: Keep a regular schedule both on weekdays and weekends to get your body used to a routine.
- Perform rituals: Develop relaxation techniques before bedtime that you associate with resting, such as drinking a cup of hot, herbal tea or reading a book.
- Eat your meals early: Give your body time to digest the food. As a general rule, allow at least three hours between dinner and bedtime.
- Save worrying for the next day: Most problems cannot be solved while you’re asleep. Try to put stressful thoughts aside. If you have trouble doing this, consider writing down your concerns in a diary. This is a good way to process these thoughts and release them for a while.
- Take a quality magnesium supplement before bed: The best kind is the one that is comprised of all four types of magnesium. This complex also affords you better morning bowel cleansing. Two great reasons to take magnesium.