Those Late-Night Golden Girls Reruns Could Be Bad for Your Health

Joan is tired all the time. It could be because she’s a night owl who reads books and doesn’t like putting them down, or because she watches reruns of the Golden Girls and Frasier late at night. Joan’s daughter began noticing texts and Facebook posts from Joan at 2am. When confronted, Joan didn’t see where there was a problem. In her opinion, she was retired, and could stay up as long as she wanted. Joan’s daughter thought it was a big problem, however. She knows that lack of sleep can have a negative impact on many aspects of your health, and even make Alzheimer’s appear earlier.

Next week beginning on March 11, the National Sleep Foundation sponsors its annual National Sleep Awareness Week. This year’s theme “Begin with Sleep” highlights the importance of good sleep health for individuals to best achieve their personal, family, and professional goals. According to the National Sleep Foundation, studies on the sleep habits of older Americans show an increase in the time it takes to fall asleep (sleep latency), an overall decline in REM sleep, and an increase in sleep fragmentation (waking up during the night) with age. All these things could be having a negative impact on their health.

Researchers are learning more and more about the mysteries of sleep, and have shared intriguing new findings about sleep and healthy aging:

1. Good health and good sleep are connected.

Poor health can keep older adults from getting a good night’s sleep. For instance, painful conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis, or wakefulness due to anxiety and depression can be what’s keeping us awake. At the same time, poor sleep hastens the progression of chronic health problems, such as heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders, memory loss, Parkinson’s disease, hypertension, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s. Therefore, while working with your doctor to manage chronic health conditions, be sure to seek treatment for sleep problems, as well. Once diagnosed, insomnia, sleep apnea and other sleep disorders can be treated with lifestyle changes, improved sleep habits, medical devices and in some cases, sleep medications or natural remedies, as described later in this article.

2 Get the sleep you need to live longer!

It’s important to get the amount of sleep that our bodies and minds need to flourish and to thrive. A recent study from the University of Warwick in England found that people who sleep for less than six hours each night are 12% more likely to die prematurely. Sleepiness during the day is the best sign that a person isn’t getting enough sleep and that the problem should be evaluated by a physician.

3. Want to maintain a healthy weight? Get a full night’s sleep

We burn fewer calories while we are asleep, so it would make sense that sleeping less would help us lose weight, right? Although it sounds logical, it’s actually the opposite. Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden showed that even a single night of sleep loss can both increase the appetite and decrease the amount of energy we use the next day. That combination, over time, can lead to steady weight gain.

4. Do you bring your smart phone or laptop to bed? Bad idea.

Each year during National Sleep Awareness Week, the National Sleep Foundation releases the results of a poll on some aspect of sleep. Last year’s topic was the effect of communications technologies, such as smart phones, on sleep. The Foundation discovered that almost 95% of the 1,508 people polled reported using a computer, watching TV, playing a video game or using their cell phone at least a few nights before going to bed. The researchers say that the light-emitting screens cause artificial light exposure, which ultimately makes it more difficult to go to sleep. Be sure to allow enough time to wind down and relax in a dimly lit area before going to bed. And be sure not to have anything with a blue light in your bedroom or bathroom at night. Blue light has been shown to interfere with sleep. If you need a night light, it should ideally be a red nightlight, as red interferes the least with sleep.

5. New understanding of the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease

Sleep is necessary for the formation of long-term memories. While we are asleep, our brains are busy creating and consolidating the memories of the day. Neurologists now know that poor sleep also raises the risk of dementia. Washington University in St. Louis researchers discovered that sleep deprivation makes the brain plaques of Alzheimer’s disease appear earlier and more often. This study suggests that treating insomnia and other sleep disorders could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Some researchers also now believe that sleep disorders may even be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s. But, in some cases sleep disorders could lead to a misdiagnosis of dementia. Symptoms such as confusion, disorientation, and the inability to focus that would suggest cognitive impairment may disappear when the patient gets enough good quality sleep. This is yet another reason to bring up sleep problems with your healthcare provider!

Need Help Catching Some ZZZZZ’s?

Having trouble sleeping? In many cases, this can be corrected by improving your sleep hygiene. This includes:

· limiting daytime napping to 30 minutes or less;
· exercising for at least 10 minutes per day;
· avoiding caffeine and other stimulants after 2 pm; and
· avoiding eating anything several hours before bedtime, so your body has a chance to digest all of your food before you hit the sack.

For those who still can’t sleep after taking such measures, research shows that 1 in 25 adults take prescription sleep medicine. But plenty of people use natural solutions, too. There are some drug-free remedies that have been well studied by scientists, as follows:

1. Melatonin Supplements: When we’re exposed to TVs, computers, and phones with backlit displays as mentioned earlier, that tricks the brain into thinking it’s light out and it doesn’t make as much melatonin as it should. Melatonin supplements help get melatonin production back on track, and may be what is needed to help you get a good night sleep.
2. Valerian root: If melatonin doesn’t work or if you don’t want to take it, valerian root might do the job. While the overall evidence remains mixed, the safety of valerian is well-established.
3. Lavender can improve sleep quality, due to it’s relaxing effects on the body. In recent studies, lavender oil also was shown to help with significant decreases in blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature.
4. Hops: Hops are used to flavor beverages, such as beer, and as an herbal medicine. Hops have been shown to improve sleep. A study found that university students who drank nonalcoholic beer that contained hops enhanced their quality of sleep. Hops have also been shown to lower cholesterol; relieve irritability; aid in digestive issues; and have antibacterial properties. They are not recommended for those with depression or other hormone-sensitive disorders.
5. Passion Flower is a plant containing chemicals that produce a calming effect. It brings about feelings of relaxation and sleepiness, and is sometimes combined with other plants in an herbal blend. A recent study showed that passion flower alleviated sleep disorders when taken for four weeks. Participants in the study also experienced reduced anxiety levels.

Hope some of the information in this article helps you get a better night’s rest, and that the article itself didn’t put you to sleep :). Remember, as you are finding ways to improve your sleep, one of the greatest ways to rest easy is the peace of mind that comes with planning for your future and for your loved ones. If you haven’t yet done your living trust estate planning, if you don’t have a comprehensive power of attorney with asset protection powers, or if a loved one is nearing the need for nursing home care, please call us at one of the numbers below to make an appointment for an initial consultation, or to sign up for one of our upcoming seminars:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.