The Importance of Sleep and How to Achieve It
In addition to the pandemic of COVID19, there is another global epidemic of sleeplessness, with about 2 out of 3 adults sleeping less than 8 hours a night. How much sleep is recommended for young adults and seniors?
The Mayo Clinic recommends 7 or more hours a night. Older adults need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults. As you get older, however, your sleeping patterns might change. Older adults tend to sleep more lightly, take longer to start sleeping and sleep for shorter time spans than do younger adults. Older adults also tend to wake up multiple times during the night, for bathroom visits (God, why am I being punished for getting old?).
Sleep quality is just as important as the amount of sleep (a topic for another column). Teenagers (13-19) need 8-10 hours per 24 hour period. Achieving this is linked with better attention, learning, memory, mental and physical health. For adults, getting less than seven hours of sleep on a regular basis has been linked to poor health, including weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and depression.
The wake/sleep cycle very dependent on your circadian clock. This is a master regulator for when a variety of your biological functions are active or suppressed. The Circadian (24h) clock for sleep is governed by the light/dark cycle. The best thing you can do to “set” your circadian clock in the morning is to get outside and look indirectly at the sunrise for at least 5 minutes. The blue light is powerful and will stimulate the release of melatonin 12-16 hours later. This will help you to be more alert and thus more productive when you are awake. At night, when you start to get sleepy, avoid looking at overhead lights and shut down your TV, computer, and cell phone. They all emit blue light which causes breakdown of melatonin.
In general seniors produce less melatonin than younger individuals. So, if you are having trouble falling asleep you might ask your physician whether it would be ok to try melatonin supplements. Also, try spirituality – using a brief meditation with God thinking about what went well today and how that might strengthen your relationship with the Lord.
This along with some deep breathing (inhale through your nose, hold for 3-4 seconds and exhale through pursed lips for a longer time than it took you to breathe in). This technique will cause the release of serotonin, a hormone associated with calmness which will relax you and help induce sleep.
Naps during the day are ok as long as they do not exceed 90 minutes.
So, in summary your light anchors are sunrise and sunset and no artificial light late at night, especially devices that emit blue light. One suggestion is to shut all devices down 30 min before your bedtime and do some reading (books or magazines, NOT iPads or Kindles) using a floor lamp. Of course, if none of this works and you have chronic insomnia, then you should schedule an appointment with your primary care physician for help.
The intent of these columns is to provide information about how to improve your life by addressing physical and spiritual situations that might be impeding your peace, happiness and sense of fulfillment. Also, there will be useful tips on achieving academic success for undergrads and grad students at our local Universities. If you find these columns useful, please let me know through my email address listed below. Perhaps if enough people are interested we might form a self-help group to meet once a month as a start.
Richard M Niles, PhD
Emeritus Professor and former Associate Dean of Biomedical Sciences
Joan C Edwards School of Medicine