How many times have you woke up not feeling that rested or really wishing you could have just two more hours of sleep? How many times have you woken up in the middle of the night and spent the rest of the night tossing and turning?
If you have lost more than one night of sleep in a row, you are no doubt feeling truly robbed of much needed restoration.
Listening to daily conversations regarding sleep, I think it is safe to say, many of us are struggling to get the quality of sleep we once enjoyed in days gone by. I’ve even heard it said that as we age, it is natural that we don’t need as much sleep. Is that true, I wondered? Is it really the case that as we age, we need less sleep? It turns out I am not the only person interested in better slumber. The study of sleep is starting to gain momentum not just in sleep labs, now it is popping up on TED Talks and pushing into The New York Times bestseller list.
In my research to better understand the science of how to catch more Zs, I found the book titled “Why We Sleep” written by Matthew Walker a neuroscientist who took four years to dial into why sleep is essential for all of us and how to achieve better levels of snooze quality. “Why We Sleep” details the numerous negative aspects of lack of sleep on a personal level, noting serious detriments to personal short- and long-term health. According to his research, drowsy driving results in a crash somewhere in the United States every 30 seconds, surpassing the number caused by drugs and drinking combined.
Truthfully, as I read passages like this, I transitioned from curiosity to anxiety. It turns out my adaptation to less than six hours of sleep is most likely aiding in my sudden weight gain, foggy afternoon mindset and occasional short fuse. Could it really be that I am actually suffering from worse sleep than I was aware of? Yes, according to Dr. Walker. When we are sleep deprived, we are terrible at knowing just how little quality rest we are actually getting!
But, wait… what about my original question. As we age, do we need less sleep? Dr. Walker recommends that even as we age, we still need at least eight hours of sleep. Not only that, it turns out we need to pay attention to more than just the quantity of sleep. Our sleep may become less effective with age and Dr. Walker offers helpful tips and tricks to navigate this phenomenon. An idea I am incorporating is an alarm 90 minutes prior to bed to help me gear down into better rest!
While reading a book will not magically solve my sleeping issues, I now recognize that my poor sleep habits directly impact my quality of life and health. If you are sleeping less than eight hours a night, or notice that you are waking frequently, tossing and turning or wake up not feeling rested… it might be worth checking out this book, talking to your doctor or finding other ways to improve your sleep habits.
Heather Comstock is dementia care coordinator with Dementia Friendly Wyoming. The Dementia Friendly Wyoming project is funded in part by grant number 90ALGGG0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201.