A problem for most adults who are 70 or older is the fact that they suffer with consistently sleepless cycles. Not only do they sleep less, but their sleep cycle is generally disrupted during the night with several wake cycles. In a person with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) lack of sleep is more pronounced with some night confusion and evening wanderings.
A recent study conducted by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston and with the assistance of the University of Toronto/Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, an initial conclusion has been reached as to what causes this loss of sleep in older adults. The report was published in the Oxford Medicine and Health Journal Brain. This discovery illustrates that a set of neurons that cause sleepfulness die off in significant numbers as people age, causing the disturbance in sleep patterns.
There is an apparent correlation between losing these neurons and several health issues which include vascular disease, increased blood pressure, an inclination to acquire type 2 diabetes, and cognitive dysfunction. These inhibitory neurons, acting a type of switch that caused sleep was initially discovered in 1996 in rat brains. The ventrolateral preoptic nucleus turned off the arousal systems in rats, causing them to fall asleep. Experiments with the rats illustrated a loss of these neurons caused insomnia, disrupted sleep patterns, or sleep fragments, with the rats sleeping only 50 percent of the time they usually slept.
In the human brain this area is known as the intermediate nucleus, it has the same obstructing neurological transmitter, known as galanin, as rats, and has a similar location in the brain. A theory that the two had a common function in rats and humans was formulated. An examination of data of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, that was initiated in 1997, as a community study concerning aging and dementia, was used to evaluate the subjects who volunteered as healthy 65-year-olds who are followed until they die, at which time their brains are used in research. The number of subjects is just under 1,000 people and beginning in 2005 people in this project undergo actigraphic recording every two years. Actigraphic recording is a method of monitoring human rest and activity cycles that is non-invasive.
Brains of 45 subjects were analyzed by using a stain to identify the neurotransmitter galanin. These results were then compared with the actigraphic rest cycles in the year prior to their deaths. It was ascertained that the fewer neurons in the brain, the more sleep was broken up into smaller periods. With this information it is possible to find ways to reduce these insomniac difficulties in older adults and assist in the sleep declines in individuals with some types of dementia.
Current methods for those adults who suffer with sleepless cycles are available and can be performed with a little research and self-examination. For example, most people know if they are getting enough sleep if they do not feel drowsy during the day. The average amount of sleep for most people is seven or eight hours each night.
Contrary to some beliefs, sleep can not be made up on weekends through sleeping longer. If a person is sleepless for a certain amount of time, it cannot be recovered through longer sleep periods on certain days, or taking naps the following day. This may actually impair a person’s ability to receive the proper amount of time for sleep.
Having a prescribed schedule for sleep or a constant routine by going to bed at the same time every night and arising at the same time every morning is a proven method for sleeping well. A person who goes to bed at 10 every night and gets up every morning at six has established a formula for consistency and healthful sleeping hours. Routines for sleeping set a positive cycle in motion that is comforting, predictable and relaxing.
Relaxation techniques before going to bed are helpful for successful sleeping patterns. People who find certain activities relaxing are more successful in their sleep cycles. For example, a hot bath before bed, listening to soft music, meditation or body relaxing movements, are proven activities for acquiring more restful sleep.
A proper bedroom environment is also conducive to relaxing sleep time. A bedroom that is dark during the night and early morning allows for longer sleep time. Producing white noise, such as waves crashing against the shore, rain sounds or birds chirping, may cancel out outside noises. Proper temperature controls are also helpful, plus a good mattress and comfortable bedding can assist one’s sleep patterns.
Avoid stimulating drinks at night like coffee, soda, or tea. Other drinks to avoid are those containing alcohol, such as wine, which may seem like a good idea, but alcohol tends to wake a person up. People think smoking might relax them, though nicotine has been proven to be a stimulant and needs to be avoided.
Other things to avoid are eating a snack before bed, especially spicy foods, sugar snacks or products with tomato in them. Although exercise is good for the body, doing workouts before bed tend to stimulate the body, not slow it down. Sleepless cycles in adults cause silent suffering that may be alleviated with the proper environment and education.
By Andy Towle