Posts Tagged ‘Sleep’

A Good Night’s Sleep Gets Harder to Come by with Age

February 19th, 2014 at 1:47 pm by timigustafson

In our busy lives, getting enough rest can be challenging at any age. But for older people it becomes even more difficult, perhaps not so much because of stress-related sleep deprivation but because of changing sleep patterns. As we age, we not only need less sleep, we also don’t sleep as deeply and wake up more often during the night.

While these changes are not always cause for concern, they can become problematic if they lead to persistent sleep disorders with potentially serious health effects.

As younger adults, we typically spend much of our sleep time in a state called “deep sleep.” Closer to the morning hours, we enter a different phase named “REM” (rapid eye movement), a lighter form of sleep where the eyes move rapidly behind closed lids. Usually, there are several back-and-forth switches between deep sleep and REM periods throughout the night, but the latter gradually dominate and let us eventually wake up.

Not so with older folks. Deep sleep phases become shorter and turn more often into lighter REM sleep and actual awakening, possibly three to four times per night.

It is this repeated awakening that can do long-term damage. Deep sleep is the most restorative phase when both body and mind can heal from their daily wear and tear. If it is interrupted or cut short too many times, these necessary healing processes are prevented from taking place. On the outside, you may just feel groggy and tired in the morning, but on the inside much of the repair work meant to keep you healthy remains undone.

There can be a number of causes for sleep disruption. Besides age-related changes of sleep patterns, you may be dealing with the effects of late-night consumption of food, alcohol or caffeine, interference from medications, chronic disease like high blood pressure and heart disease, sleep apnea, need for frequent urination, and others.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the health consequences from sleep-related disorders are far from benign. Studies have shown associations between disturbed or insufficient sleep and unhealthy weight gain and other diet-related ills. For older adults, the results can be even more dire. Researchers have found that frequent sleep disruption in the elderly is a leading cause for depression and other detrimental effects on mental health.

Regrettably, sleep disturbance, especially when it affects older patients, is not taken seriously enough by many healthcare providers. The fact is, it is not an inevitable part of aging.

Helpful steps to prevent sleep interruptions during the night are:

• Avoiding heavy meals, alcohol, and caffeine close to bedtime
• Avoiding large amounts of water and other liquids late at night
• Avoiding strenuous exercise and other physical activities shortly before sleep
• Avoiding stimulating or aggravating interactions (like problem solving, arguing, watching movies, listening to loud music, etc.)
• Practicing good sleep hygiene (like keeping bedrooms dark and at low temperature)
• Using relaxation practices (like meditating, yoga, massage, etc.)

Many people with sleep troubles are tempted to take sleeping pills or supplements containing melatonin and the likes, and that may indeed be part of the solution. But there can also be a risk of addiction. Be advised that most of these remedies have side effects and should not be taken without consulting a physician. For these reasons, most experts recommend not to take sleep medicines for extended periods of time.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Not Getting Enough Sleep May Contribute to Mental Decline in Later Years

October 26th, 2013 at 4:47 pm by timigustafson

Chronic sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality have been linked to a number of health problems, but now a new study has identified one more potential risk, namely cognitive decline at old age, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

While it has not been determined yet whether people who don’t sleep well are more likely to suffer from dementia as they get older, or whether it is a symptom of mental illness already on its way, scientists have long known that both sleep hygiene and mental well-being are closely connected.

For the study, the researchers scanned the brains of 70 participants, ages 53 to 91, looking for clusters of beta-amyloid plaques, proteins that when building up in the brain may cause the kind of damage associated with AD.

This is not the first time scientists have investigated the role of sleep, or lack thereof, for mental health. Studies on lab animals have suggested that the damaging effects can work both ways, meaning that sleep deprivation and sleep fragmentation can increase the levels of beta-amyloid, which in turn may be a factor in further sleep disturbance. The result may be a vicious circle with potentially dire outcome.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 50 and 70 million Americans are chronically sleep-deprived. In surveys conducted by the agency from 2005 to 2006 and again from 2007 to 2008, 23 percent of participants reported having difficulties with concentrating and 18 percent with remembering. 11 percent said they sometimes had problems driving safely due to insufficient rest.

The effects of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders may be less apparent in younger people, but they are nevertheless real. Besides being more prone to engage in hazardous behavior when overtired, even young adults increase their risk of developing chronic diseases like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes as well as emotional and mental illness if they remain in a prolonged state of sleeplessness.

A person’s circadian rhythm, the cycling of sleep and wakefulness as well as body temperature and metabolism throughout the day and night, can get progressively unbalanced when sleep needs are neglected. In older adults, difficulties to maintain regular rest periods may increase. Especially the deep sleep stages, when the body does most of its healing and repair work of tissue, bones and muscles from daily wear and tear, lessen with age.

While, generally speaking, aging is often associated with shorter and lighter sleep, it doesn’t have to be this way. Older adults can benefit from the same sleep hygiene as everyone else. Eating a light dinner, avoiding alcohol consumption late at night (nightcaps), creating a calm, sleep-conducive environment before bedtime, lowering temperatures in the bedroom, and shutting off the lights are all part of it. For more information on how to improve your sleep pattern, see these recommendations.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Your Eating Habits May Keep You from Getting a Good Night’s Rest

February 13th, 2013 at 1:03 pm by timigustafson

Do you feel permanently tired? Do you get less sleep than you would like? Do you have a hard time falling asleep at night? Is your sleep frequently interrupted? Do you wake up from a deep slumber when your alarm clock goes off? Are you still sleepy or groggy in the morning? Are you regularly exhausted in the afternoon or evening? If so, it may not only be your lifestyle but also your diet that wreaks havoc on your sleep.

Millions of Americans are chronically sleep deprived. For many there seems never enough time for rest, and it takes a toll on people’s health. One often-seen response to sleep deprivation is increased food consumption, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. While clinical research has long shown connections between sleeplessness and weight problems, a new study has found that eating habits also influence sleep in ways that were previously not considered.

Researchers from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania studied how various diet and sleep patterns correlate by evaluating self-reported data from a survey by the National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES), involving thousands of participants.

According to the study’s findings, people who slept fewer hours also had different eating habits and food preferences than those who allowed themselves more rest. For instance, short sleepers (usually five to six hours per night) consumed more calories on average but had less variety in their food choices than normal (seven to eight hours) and long sleepers (nine or more hours). Long sleepers consumed the least amount of calories but had a less varied diet than normal sleepers.

The reasons for these differences are not altogether clear. Short sleepers may generally have less time to take care of their dietary needs, such as food shopping, cooking and taking breaks for meals. Normal and long sleepers may have a more leisurely lifestyle.

Prior studies on diet and sleep have primarily focused on how sleep, or lack thereof, influences eating habits. There is growing evidence that overeating and binge eating are frequently linked to sleep problems. One particular study showed that participants whose sleep was restricted for a specific period of time increased their food intake by up to 500 calories per day. Poor sleep made them vulnerable to overeating and weight gain over time, says Dr. Virend Somers, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and lead author of the study. Surprisingly, the additional waking hours did not allow them to burn more calories than their better-sleeping counterparts.

How exactly insufficient sleep leads to greater appetite is not yet fully understood. One possible explanation is that many important functions in the body are affected by sleep deprivation, including hormonal functions that regulate appetite and satiety. A reduction in the hormone leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone that is released by fat cells during the night, may be a cause. The hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin, which responds to sleep restriction with increased secretion, may also play a role. Furthermore, lack of sleep can reduce sensitivity to insulin, thereby weakening blood sugar regulation and the ability to metabolize blood sugar.

Obviously, it is not always easy to make changes to one’s sleeping habits because of pressures from work, long commutes and other chores. Still, there can be room for improvement by setting priorities.

Here are some suggestions: Neither food nor drink, especially alcohol, should be consumed later than two hours before bedtime. A full stomach is not conducive to restful sleep. Caffeine may keep you awake. Late intake of liquids may have you go to the bathroom during the night.

There are also issues that are not diet-related. The final hours of the day should be spent with as little exposure to stimulating events as possible. That includes late night exercising, watching TV, dealing with e-mails or discussing controversial subjects.

Observing good sleep hygiene is equally as important. Setting the right temperature, dimming the lights and keeping the bedroom uncluttered are just a few examples.

Some changes will require experimentation. What matters most is that your actions as well as your environment help you getting the rest you need.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Don’t Let Holiday Stress Wear You Out

November 28th, 2012 at 1:17 pm by timigustafson

It’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year.” But for many Americans the holiday season brings considerable stress, anxiety and even depression. What should be an opportunity to slow down, take a vacation, focus on family and friends, often turns into an annually reoccurring hassle that is more of a burden than a relief.

It’s no wonder that so many people have a sense of dread rather than excitement about the holidays and find themselves completely frazzled by the time it’s over, says Elisabeth Scott, a stress management expert at about.com. According to a poll she conducted, 80 percent of respondents said they were more stressed during the holidays than they would like to be.

“All of the baking and entertaining, shopping, wrapping, relatives we don’t often see (sometimes for good reason), and holiday cards can add up to a schedule packed with extra activity and responsibility. Pair that with high expectations that most of us carry for the season, as well as the debt that often lasts for months afterwards, and you have a recipe for stress,” says Scott.

Stress is also one of the reasons why so many people get sick around the holidays. It’s not just flu season that catches up with you, it’s also that the heightened stress weakens your immune system and makes you more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. Studies have shown that when test participants were subjected to elevated stress levels, their bodies almost stopped producing infection-fighting antibodies and their natural defenses went down.

Stress can make you more susceptible to illnesses from colds and flu to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, according to WebMD. Studies found that chronic stress can ‘age’ the immune system and potentially increase the risk of any number of serious health conditions, including cancer.

It doesn’t have to be this way. “This year can be different,” says Scott. “Try a combination of cutting back on activities, taking shortcuts, and adjusting your own expectations for the season. You can enjoy the holidays to the fullest without maxing out your energy, schedule and credit cards.”

Most importantly, you need to take care of your health, if you want to make it through the holidays in one piece. That starts with sound eating habits, regular exercise and getting enough rest.

Stress increases your need for nutrients because stress makes it more difficult for the body to digest properly, says Cindy Heroux, a registered dietitian and author of “The Manual That Should Have Come With Your Body” (Speaking of Wellness, 2003). “The more malnourished you become, the more severely stress will impact both your body and your mind,” she warns.

To prevent that from happening, health experts recommend eating plenty of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables to keep so-called “free radicals” at bay. Free radicals are reactive biological compounds that can damage DNA and suppress the immune system and are associated with many diseases. It is believed that stress plays a significant role in the increasing presence of these compounds.

Exercise, of course, is a great way to find relief from stress. “Exercise can decrease stress hormones like cortisol and increase endorphins, your body’s feel-good chemicals, giving your mood a natural boost. [It] can take your mind off your problems and either redirect it on the activity at hand or get you into a zen-like state,” says Scott.

In addition to following a balanced diet and exercise regimen, you also must set time aside for rest and relaxation. If necessary, you have to say ‘no’ and cut back on preparations or activities if they overwhelm you. “You don’t need to try every activity offered, go to every party thrown, or do everything the ‘Martha Stewart’ way in order to make your holiday special,” says Scott. Don’t become so busy that you no longer enjoy what is supposed to be fun and give you pleasure. Stick to what’s important to you, the things you would really miss if they weren’t included, and don’t measure yourself by other people’s expectations. After all, it should be a wonderful time for you, too.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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In Praise of Taking Naps

September 29th, 2012 at 1:39 pm by timigustafson

Many Americans are chronically sleep deprived. Our busy work schedules, long commutes and countless demands at home don’t leave us enough time for a good night’s rest, let alone daytime breaks. In contrast to other cultures, taking siestas is often associated here with laziness and lax work ethics. We rather push through and, if necessary, fuel up on caffeine and power bars when our energy level goes down.

In terms of productivity, that may be a virtuous attitude, but staying awake all day followed by six to eight hours of slumber is not necessarily “natural” for human beings. In fact, we are in the minority among mammals when it comes to sleep habits. Studies on sleep patterns of animals have found that 85 percent of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, meaning they sleep for several shorter periods of time in a 24-hour cycle. Monophasic sleepers like us adhere to two distinct periods of wakefulness and rest. But that may have developed culturally rather than out of biological necessity.

Historically speaking, the idea that we should ideally spend long stretches of uninterrupted sleep is relatively recent. It’s a narrow concept, according to David K. Randall, author of “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep,” and we don’t even share it with all of the world’s population.

With regards to productivity, there is no guarantee that working longer and harder always produces better results. Some of the greatest achievers in history, among them Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, insisted on regular afternoon naps.

Even corporate America is discovering the benefits of allowing workers to doze off a bit when they feel sluggish. There is an increased tolerance for napping and other alternative schedules at many of today’s workplaces, says Randall. He names Google as an example where napping is not only permitted but even encouraged because the company believes it promotes creativity.

Health experts agree. “You can get incredible benefits from 15 to 20 minutes of napping” said Dr. Sara C. Mednick, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life,” in an interview with WebMD. “You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance. That’s what most people really need to stave off sleepiness and get an energy boost.”

Besides restoring alertness and enhancing performance, napping also has a number of psychological benefits. A nap can have similar effects as a mini-vacation or a spa treatment and can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation, according to researchers at the Sleep Foundation.

Especially older people can profit from taking daytime rests, not only for their physical but also their mental well-being. “People who nap generally enjoy better mental health and mental efficiency than people who do not,” says Dr. Andrew Weil, author of numerous best-selling books, including “Healthy Aging” (Knopf, 2005). But, he cautions, the “timing and duration of naps are important: Too much, too often, or at the wrong time of day can be counterproductive.” That is particularly true for seniors who suffer from sleep disturbances that come with aging. Still, napping, Dr. Weil says, is a good way to take care of the body’s need for rest, which increases with age.

To get the most out of your naps, Dr. Mednick recommends to keep them short, about 20 to 30 minutes max; to make them a regular habit and schedule them roughly at the same time; to take them in a place that is protected from light and noise and has a sleep-conducive room temperature, that is slightly cooler than your work environment but warm enough that you don’t freeze.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “The Importance of Sleep for Your Health.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Widespread Chronic Sleep Deprivation Seen as a Cause for Concern

March 28th, 2012 at 7:23 am by timigustafson

There are multiple causes for the so-called lifestyle-related diseases that plague us today. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension can mostly be blamed on poor nutrition, lack of exercise, stress and, as scientists increasingly find out, sleep deprivation.

Over the last few decades, Americans have kept cutting back on their sleep as their lives have become busier. Long hours spent on work, commutes, kids’ activities and household chores leave less and less time for rest. While a few generations ago people slept for eight hours or more, most Americans have to get by on six hours or less today.

And it’s not only the difference in the amount of time but also the quality of the rest we get that has turned us into a nation of chronically sleep-deprived zombies.

“Sleep deprivation is reaching epidemic proportions and may soon be our nation’s number one health problem,” says Cindy Heroux, a Registered Dietitian and author of “The Manual That Should Have Come With Your Body.”

“When you don’t get enough sleep, you are more likely to suffer from certain chronic illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease. You are also more likely to gain weight or become obese,” she says.

What is the connection? Sleep deprivation can lead to disruption of your metabolism, which in turn can make the cells in your body more insulin resistant. Insulin resistance causes the cells to think they are being starved and, as a result, urgent hunger signals are dispatched to the brain, making you want to eat. That is one of the reasons why people reach for food when they are overtired or stressed out.

A recent study published in the “Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism” concluded that even short-term sleep deprivation can activate the appetite-controlling part of the brain, increasing hunger levels. Researchers have calculated that for each hour a person cuts back on sleep, he or she consumes an average of 360 additional calories. If extra calories are not burned off, they are stored as fat and insulin resistance increases even further. It’s a vicious cycle and the negative health effects can be multiple.

Some experts say that it’s not just the perpetual lack of sleep that makes Americans sick but also the ways we are trying to cope with being chronically sleep deprived. Too many people just muddle through their tiredness, says Dr. Matthew Edlund, author of “The Power of Rest.” He believes that the widespread reliance on energy drinks like “Red Bull,” “Monster” and “5-Hour Energy” does potentially more harm than users realize.

“We don’t use our bodies the way they’re built to be used,” he says. “We guzzle energy drinks and then can’t sleep at night. We sit all day and then read e-mails at 3 a.m. It’s no wonder we walk around like zombies and treat these drinks like liquid life support. It’s a good time to question these trends and find healthier ways to power up.”

Instead of using energy boosters that work short-term but eventually only add to the exhaustion resulting from sleep deprivation, nutrition experts recommend protein-rich snacks like low-fat yogurt or cheese or peanut butter. In the end, however, there is only one solution and that is getting regularly a good night’s sleep.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

About Timi Gustafson, R.D. As a clinical dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and, as of late, blogger, she has been able to reach millions of people, addressing their concerns about issues of health, lifestyle and nutrition. As Co-founder and Director of Nutrition Services for Cyberdiet.com (now Mediconsult.com), she created the first nutrition-related interactive website on the Internet in 1995. Many of the features you find on her blog, www.timigustafson.com, are based on the pioneering work of those days. Today, her goals remain the same: Helping people to achieve optimal health of body and mind. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from San José State University in California and completed a Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. She is a registered dietitian and Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Dietitians in Business and Communications, Healthy Aging, Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition, and the Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Groups. For more information about Timi Gustafson R.D. please visit: www.timigustafson.com

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