As we age, it is often natural to find that our sleeping patterns are not what they once were. Research from the National Sleep Foundation has discovered that with the aging process, comes sleep pattern changes. Many seniors often have shifts in their natural circadian rhythms, but there may be more hindering the ability to find sound sleep at night.
Adults, particularly seniors, are the most affected by these changing sleep patterns. Many seniors suffer from sleep apnea, which is when the body stops breathing for several minutes at a time throughout the evening. In addition to sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome is another main debilitating sleep condition where the legs tingle as one attempts to go to sleep. The condition has been reported as quite unpleasant for many and is actually identified as a neurological sensory disorder according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
An elder adult could be going to bed and awaking with the impression that they have had 6 to 7 hours of sleep when they’ve actually only had approximately 4 hours due to sleep apnea. The American Academy of Sleep Medicines found that at least 20 percent of seniors suffer from sleep apnea, although it is often confused with dementia. Of the nearly 60 different sleep disorders one can suffer from, the elderly are affected a disproportionate amount.
However, changes in one’s daily life may help find ways to increase sleep performance. A new study conducted by Northwestern Medicine and Rush University Medical Center has found that people with documented purpose in their lives were less likely to also report severe sleep conditions. That means people who have a reason to get up the next morning (be it for a job, a meeting, a get together with a friend, etc) sleep better at night.
Of the 823 participants documented in the study at least 63 percent noted that if they felt purpose in their lives they were less likely to suffer from sleep disorders including sleep apnea. Additionally, 52 percent were recorded as noting that they did not suffer from restless leg syndrome with the correlation that they also noted meaning in their lives. The study, which was published in a recent issue of the medical-related journal, Sleep Science and Practice, worked with individuals between the ages of 60 and 100 that were predominately African American and Caucasian and both female and male. The study included two surveys on an individual’s sleeping patterns and their mindfulness of purpose in their lives both previously and currently.
The study opens doors into ways to naturally help individuals find fulfillment and joy in their lives to better cope with their current aging issues.
Sleep disorders among seniors and the elderly are often related to the use of prescription drugs for illnesses and conditions both of the physical and psychological nature. The study noted that it may be important to not only help seniors rediscover purpose in their daily lives to sleep better each night, but to also help them find alternatives to using prescription drugs for all of their ailments.
Associate Professor Jason Ong of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine noted in the study that, “helping people cultivate a purpose in life could be an effective drug-free strategy to improve sleep quality.”
Seniors can find ways to improve their purpose and outlook on life by staying active long in their lives. As one report puts it, ‘don’t rust out.’ This means don’t head into retirement with the plan to sit and watch TV. Find activities that bring feelings of passion back into daily lives. Hobbies are a great example of what to do – getting involved in the community, volunteering, taking a class, helping younger family members with schoolwork, tackling home improvement projects, etc.
Additionally, seniors should find and stay connected to a group of friends and companions that keep their brains active. Finding that group to have intelligent conversations and connect on another level with is very important to feeling secure and keeping mentally active.
Some studies suggest seniors should find a second career, something they were passionate about, but not able to previously tackle due to commitments such as feeding and raising a family. For a senior that always wanted to become an artist, this second adventure in life could provide that meaning and purpose – all helping to achieve a more restful, sound sleep each night.
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