The Importance of Sleep for Older Adults
A good night’s sleep is essential for successful aging, no matter how old you are. After all, sleep is a time of rest and rejuvenation, when our minds and bodies can recuperate after a long day. We spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping, and quality sleep is a vital indicator of overall health and well-being], especially for older adults.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, people over age 65 should get at least seven-to-eight hours of sleep every night. That’s because getting the rest you need can help you stay both physically and mentally well as you age.
Sleep and mental health are closely related. In many ways, both impact each other. Not getting enough sleep can lead to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, while mental health conditions can, in turn, lower your sleep quality. A good night’s sleep is crucial for your mental well-being.
Lack of sleep increases your risk of serious health conditions like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. Studies show that insufficient sleep puts added stress on the body, leading to inflammation and a weakened immune system. During sleep, our bodies undergo restorative functions like muscle growth, protein synthesis and tissue repair – all of which are needed to keep your immune system strong.
Getting enough sleep is key to weight maintenance and keeping your metabolism moving at a healthy rate. Sufficient sleep also regulates ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates your appetite. If you’re sleep deprived, your metabolism slows down which can lead to weight gain.
A good night’s rest keeps your brain healthy and your memory sharp. It’s well known that sleep deprivation has a negative impact on your attention span and short-term memory. Lack of sleep also weakens your decision-making ability and your long-term memory as well. And over time, too little sleep can even contribute to cognitive decline, memory loss and increase your risk for developing dementia.
Contrary to popular belief, our brains don’t slow down while we’re sleeping. Scientists are learning more about the glymphatic system, which serves as a waste disposal system in our bodies and clears harmful toxins and debris from our brains. The glymphatic system is almost 10 times more active during sleep than it is during wakefulness.
One of the most crucial aspects of these new findings for seniors is that one of the toxins being cleared from our brain during sleep is thought to be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. According to Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study, “Sleep is critical to the function of the brain’s waste removal system…These findings also add to the increasingly clear evidence that quality of sleep or sleep deprivation can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
For more tips on how to sleep well and get the maximum benefits from bedtime, please see our posts The Critical Link Between Sleep and Brain Health and The 3 Basics of Successful Aging. The National Institute on Aging also offers a helpful resource for older adults on getting a good night’s sleep.