Thirty-seven million older Americans report frequent sleep problems. However, new evidence suggests that it is not the aging process, per se, that is affecting their sleep. The National Sleep Foundation conducted their “Sleep in America” poll to clarify the relationships between sleep and age.To better understand these relationships, we need to define healthy aging. When older adults maintain their physical and social activities, combined with nutritious eating, their health does not deteriorate.Richard Gelula, NSF’s executive director, summarized the 2003 Sleep in America poll, saying that it “indicates that poor health and not age is a major reason why many older people in this country report sleep problems.”The National Health Statistics Association has stated that the significant decrease in physical activity is the largest threat to the health of older adults. Therefore, older adults who decrease their activity levels can expect more rapid declines in health.Essentially, your body ages when degenerative processes and disease are occurring in your body. And this can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.Now, back to the NSF study … By these definitions of healthy aging, we see that degeneration in the body is a greater indicator of sleep quality than chronological age.According to the NSF survey of adults ages 55-84, three of the most common complaints associated with poor sleep were bodily pain, excess weight, and limited movement. Also, the more medical conditions reported by an older adult, the more likely they were to report sleep problems. Eighty percent of those with four or more medical conditions reported a sleep problem. Specifically, between 64 percent and 77 percent of obese and overweight individuals reported sleep problems. Diabetes and arthritis were also associated with poor sleep, which are also linked to poor weight management and lack of activity.Adults with impaired mobility were highly likely (84 percent) to report a sleep problem. Two-thirds mentioned symptoms of insomnia.Insomnia is the most common type of sleep problem expressed by older adults. Symptoms of insomnia include difficulty falling asleep, waking during the night, waking too early and not returning to sleep, and waking feeling unrefreshed.This survey was crucial in clarifying some of the myths associated with sleep and aging. Typically, they found, most older adults feel connected. The small percentage who felt isolated was more likely to report decreased sleep time and insomnia.Another key finding was that older adults exercise. And frequency of exercise related to their quality of sleep. Those who exercised infrequently were more likely to report poor sleep quality and insomnia symptoms.Surprisingly, we may look forward to sleeping better as we age. The frequency of adults’ sleep problems tends to diminish with age. Those surveyed aged 75-84 reported sleep problems less often than those aged 55-64 or 65-74.This was the second article in a two-part series on sleep, recognizing Sleep Awareness Week (March 27-April 2). For more information about natural therapies to improve sleep, contact health expert Nina Schnipper at 948-0179.
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