Adequate sleep is essential for health, immunity and energy. It boosts memory, hormone levels and the immune system and repairs cells. There are two types of sleep – REM and nREM (rapid Eye Movement and non rapid Eye Movement). nREM is split into four cycles from light to deep sleep followed by the REM cycle. While all cycles are important, the critical ones are deep sleep and REM. Adults, regardless of age, require seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Without it, we typically experience irritability, headaches, lack of concentration and gastrointestinal difficulties.
As we become elderly many of us, unfortunately, experience insomnia causing disrupted sleep patterns; thus we do not get enough deep sleep. Our weakened immune system then leaves us far more prone to illness and infection and compounds the effects of aging. Studies have shown, for instance, that people who wake up constantly in the night are up to five times more likely to catch a cold virus. Other studies have shown that obesity is more common in those that get less than seven hours sleep. A recent study by Stanford University found that the two cancer-fighting hormones, cortisol and melatonin, are impaired by inadequate sleep. Lack of melatonin can contribute to breast cancer in women.
• If light sources are keeping you awake, find ways to block them out.
• If noise is responsible, a machine like a fan or an air conditioner will generate a sleep-inducing hum that will help drown out annoying sounds. It may be worth investing in commercially available sound machines whose precise function is induce sleep while excluding the wrong type of noise.
• Avoid television or heavy intellectual activity just before bed. Instead read a book, relax in a bath and enjoy a cup of herbal tea.
• Alcohol inhibits the deeper stages of sleep- avoid it before sleeping.
• The hormone melatonin promotes sleep. As we age, production of melatonin diminishes. Consider a melatonin supplement.