The first study conducted by the University College London Medical School followed over 10,000 participants between 35 and 55 years of age. The individual screenings were conducted between 1985 and 1988 and involved a clinical examination and self-administered questionnaire. The results found that a decrease in sleep duration among participants sleeping six, seven, or eight hours at baseline was associated with a 10 percent risk of cardiovascular mortality. However, an increase in sleep duration among those who were already sleeping seven or eight hours was associated with a 10 percent excess risk of non-cardiovascular mortality.
But, in contrast, increased sleep duration among people already sleeping seven to eight hours is also associated with higher mortality rates. The 10% increased risk of heart disease mortality in the sleep deprived may be offset by the 10% increase in non-heart-related causes of mortality in excess sleepers. Seven to eight hours of sleep each night is enough for most adults to feel alert and well-rested.
The new study demonstrated a similar bell curve for cognitive function around a peak of eight hours sleep. Participants who reported on their sleep quality and length also took a battery of tests to test cognitive function. Seven to eight hours of sleep produced the best scores for women. Men were able to perform well on the tests with as little as six hours of sleep. Once participants slipped below these parameters of optimal sleep time, cognitive performance as measured by the test fell off sharply. Also, participants who slept longer, more than eight hours fell below optimal cognitive performance.
These and similar research are bringing to the medical community the awareness for developing educational programs that can help counsel people on the importance of good quality sleep and how to achieve it.
Recent suggestions for seniors who struggle with sleep include:
· Be engaged. Interacting with people – with family and friends makes a difference.
· Improve your mood. Positive feelings help sleep, negative moods impair sleep. Understanding that simple fact can help people look at sleep differently. Try to make sure that as you approach bedtime, you are in a good mood as possible. If you are dealing with negative thoughts or problems, try dealing with them earlier in the day.
· Exercise regularly. Exercise is one of the most important ways to improve sleep. However, for some people (not all) exercising to close too bedtime can be stimulating and interfere with sleep.
· Expose yourself to sunlight. Sunlight stimulates the production of melatonin that in turn helps regulate the sleep cycle. Somewhat of a paradox though - balancing our need for sunlight and the potential for skin cancers.
· Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. All are stimulants and interfere with the quality of sleep. Try experimenting going a week without coffee or other caffeine-laden drinks and see how it affects the quality of your sleep.
· Control your sleep environment. Bedrooms should be quiet, dark, and cool. Finding the best temperature for your quality of sleep can go along way to help one sleep deeply and well. Less evening TV and computers. Not only keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom, stop using either an hour or two before bedtime. Keep clocks out of view. Watching time to tick by does little to promote sleep.
· Keep a regular bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time very night, whenever possible, even on weekends. Try to coordinate that bedtime to actually when you do feel sleepy. De-stress before bedtime – find the late night rituals that let you relax and get ready for sleep. Avoid sleeping pills. Even over the counter, supposedly non-addictive aids can still become crutch and ultimately interfere with good quality sleep.
· Sex and sleep. Sex is not just good for you physically it helps promote good quality sleep.
· And if you can’t sleep. Get up and do something else. Don’t fight it. Try even a little exercise. Light movements can actually help one get back to sleep.