"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Aging and Sleep: Making Changes for Mental Health

As a neuropsychologist, my research interests have focused on the connection between sleep and cognitive health. As I've gotten older, I personally appreciate the restorative power of a great night's sleep for pondering, memory, and acting at my best.

Sleep affects our overall health, including our hormones and immune system. The neural processes that occur during sleep have profound effects on mental health and, in turn, affect mood, energy levels, and cognitive well-being. Several studies have shown that structural and physiological changes within the brain during sleep affect the power to learn recent things in addition to the strength of memories formed in the course of the day. Sleep promotes consolidation of experiences and thoughts. It plays a vital role in memory, and has been shown to extend focus, problem solving and creativity.

During each night, sleep unfolds in five different cycles that change throughout the night. These include rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM phases. REM is the stage when dreaming occurs. This stage of sleep is related to energetic eye movement and body paralysis, which ensures that the sleeper is shielded from fulfilling the dream. During REM there may be increased activity in limbic structures involved in memory and emotion regulation, while there may be less activity in frontal brain systems involved in analytical pondering. Fragments of events and memories experienced in the course of the day may be combined in novel and infrequently strange ways during REM-based dreaming. REM plays a vital role in memory and other cognitive functions. Other stages of sleep are also associated with memory. For example, stage 2 (slow wave) sleep promotes motor skill learning needed for activities similar to playing an instrument or keyboarding.

Circadian rhythm changes and sleep disturbances are common.

As we become older, we are inclined to go to sleep earlier within the evening. This may end up in early morning awakenings consequently of changes in our sleeping hours. Older people have less REM and fewer slow wave sleep. Less deep sleep may hinder memory consolidation in older adults.. In addition to changes in sleep cycles, older individuals are at increased risk of sleep disturbances that cause sleep deprivation and reduced cerebral oxygenation similar to sleep apnea, a medical condition characterised by loud snoring, sleep There is shortness of breath during, and daytime fatigue. Research has shown that lack of sleep increases amyloid, a protein related to Alzheimer's disease. Poor sleep increases amyloid deposition and, in turn, amyloid deposition affects sleep quality. In fact, individuals with Alzheimer's disease experience sleep problems, including insomnia at night and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Aging well means prioritizing sleep

We know that a great night's sleep is sweet for our brains, especially as we age. But how will we do that? As a primary step you need to use a sleep diary to trace your sleep schedule for not less than two weeks. This will provide objective information concerning the consistency of your sleep routine in addition to the connection between daytime sleepiness and your level of alertness.

Recommendations from sleep experts like Dr. Suzanne Britsch provide a roadmap for improving sleep hygiene. The following points are highlighted.

Consistency matters. Train your body to sleep well by going to bed and getting up at the identical time daily (even on weekends).

Sleep only while you feel sleepy. Don't spend an excessive amount of time waking up in bed.

Pay attention to your sleep environment. Your bed needs to be comfortable. The room needs to be quite dark and quiet. Some people use eye masks to dam out light. Some use white noise filters or earplugs when there may be noise in or near the bedroom. The temperature of your bedroom needs to be cool. A cool room with warm blankets is ideal for a great night's sleep.

Keep your bed protected for sleep (and sex). Avoid television, reading, or work activities while in bed.

Avoid (or limit) naps. You must be drained at bedtime. If that you must nap in the course of the day, do it before 3 a.m. and for lower than an hour.

Avoid stimulants (coffee, cola, chocolate and cigarettes) 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.

Limit alcohol consumption to 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. Alcohol disrupts REM and slow-wave sleep, that are necessary for memory.

Avoid electronic devices with LED screens not less than an hour before bedtime. The blue light from these screens interferes with the brain's natural sleep rhythm, and might trick your brain into pondering it's daytime.

Use rituals. Some people enjoy a warm bath one to 2 hours before bed. Others use stretching or mindfulness techniques to organize for sleep.

If you get up within the night, don't stay in bed struggling to get back to sleep. Get up and do something that induces sleep (like reading) for about 20 minutes, after which return to bed and check out to induce sleep.

Sleep is a vital aspect of cognitive health, nevertheless it's not the entire story. More information on mental fitness may be found by reading our special health report. A Guide to Cognitive Fitness.