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How Sleep Affects Health

When your sleep is poor, not only does the daytime tiredness affect your ability to do activities throughout the day safely and enjoyably, but poor sleep has been linked with a lower quality of life, and risk of chronic disease. For people with bad sleep habits, conditions like diabetes and obesity are more common. Surprisingly, sleep regulates the hormones that tell your body when you’re hungry and signals the feeling of fullness that makes you stop eating. For those suffering from bad sleep, they may be prompted to eat more, and also reach for unhealthy food choices throughout the day.

Sleep is also incredibly important for supporting mental health. Good sleep boosts your immune system, helps you manage and process your emotions more effectively, and improves your mood. Additionally, daytime sleepiness is associated with higher risk of falls, slips, injuries, and other accidents, due to decreased alertness. Poor sleep leads to a day of increased response times and poor judgment, leading to a higher likelihood of accidents with driving or other problems for older adults who continue to operate motor vehicles or power tools.

Roughly a third of all older adults report some difficulty with falling asleep and staying asleep. It is common amongst seniors to take longer falling asleep, and have more awakenings throughout the night. Wakefulness during the night is okay, as long as you can fall back asleep. Sleep quality and quantity is the most important thing, and despite many people becoming early risers in their advanced age, older adults need the same amount of sleep as any other adults. That is to say, between seven and nine hours each night.

There are many contributing factors that lead to poor sleep. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped, with many disruptions to normal routines, social isolation leading to depression, and anxiety over contracting the disease or over other effects of it like economic hardship. For older adults experiencing chronic illnesses or conditions, things like feeling sick, being in pain, or being on certain medications can all interfere with sleep as well.

Excessive daytime sleepiness itself can be a symptom of an illness or condition you may not be aware of, like obstructive sleep apnea, cognitive decline, or cardiovascular issues. Sleep apnea is common amongst adults, with weight on the upper chest and neck blocking the flow of air leading to snoring and periods of not breathing throughout the night. Due to sleep regulating hunger hormones, it’s part of a vicious, self-supporting cycle where the poor sleep encourages poor eating habits, which makes the poor sleep worse, which makes the eating habits worse, and so on and so on.

There are foundational steps you can take to improve your sleep, no matter the cause of your sleep issues. Consider that you should reserve your bedroom for sleep. By keeping the temperature comfortable, and keeping distracting electronics like TVs, phones, tablets, and others out, you can make sure your sleeping area is associated with just that; sleep. Establishing a bedtime ritual and sticking to it will also prepare your body for restful sleep.