Overcoming Lack of Sleep

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

SFA author Jim Evans is a 42-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and an internationally recognized senior fitness consultant. Today Jim offers some healthy advice for getting sufficient, good quality sleep.

DEAR JIM: For the past several years I’ve been tossing and turning all night and can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep. Worse, when I look in the mirror I can’t believe how old I look. I realize that at 74 I’m not a "spring chicken" anymore, but my age seems to be accelerating. I eat a well balanced diet and try to stay physically active, but I just can’t sleep as soundly as I used to and I’m tired all the time. Any suggestions? SLEEPY IN SANTA CRUZ

DEAR SLEEPY: For starters I would recommend a complete physical examination to see if there are any underlying medical issues that might be causing your sleeplessness. A lack of sleep can have numerous undesirable side effects.

Research indicates that the consistent lack of a good night’s sleep can negatively impact your ability to handle stress, compromise your health, increase motor and neurological deterioration, hasten the aging process, and ultimately shorten your life. You might have been able to tolerate less sleep when you were younger without any immediately noticeable side effects but not so when you are older.

"We’re beginning to identify some of the underlying mechanisms that may help explain why organisms age," said Natraj Krishnan (krishnan@science.oregonstate.edu), a research associate in the Oregon State University Department of Zoology. He noted that "… young individuals may be able to handle certain stresses, but the same insults at an older age cause genetic damage and appear to lead to health problems and earlier death. And it’s linked to biological clocks."

If your physical doesn’t turn up anything unusual, try some of the traditional methods of improving your sleep such as curtailing physical activity before you go to bed, avoiding caffeine for several hours before bedtime, and not going to bed hungry (but don’t eat too much late at night either). And, no, a warm glass of milk before you go to bed may not help you sleep despite what your grandmother used to tell you, but if you think it does, go for it. Most of us already know that drinking too much fluid before bedtime is usually asking for trouble, so go easy on beverages of any kind.

Your room temperature can make a big difference in how you sleep, too, so turn off the heat at night (or at least turn it down if you live in a colder climate) and snuggle under the covers. You might even try reading in bed to help you wind down from the day’s activities.

There are also other ways to improve your sleep habits, but definitely start with the physical check-up to rule out any medical issues. The important thing is to get to the source of the problem so that you can start looking — and feeling — more refreshed in the morning.

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