Everybody feels like they need more sleep. But did you ever think that it’s not more sleep you need but better sleep? We caught up with sleep expert Motty Varghese on easy ways to improve your sleep quality
World Sleep Day is observed on the 15 March, and this year the slogan is “Healthy sleep, Healthy ageing”. This is to focus on the importance of sleep in ageing, and also to keep chronic health conditions at bay.
Elvis Presley famously said: “Rhythm is something you either have or don’t have it, but if you have it, you have it all over”. Mr Presley was certainly talking about musical rhythms, but human body isn’t much different. Everything that happens in our body happens in a very rhythmic fashion with a specific purpose. These rhythms are maintained by a body clock and the body clock takes its natural cues. For instance, light controls our sleep and alertness, or in other words our rest and productivity. Our three most important rhythms are our sleep, dietary habits and exercise habits. If these rhythms are maintained properly, we are able to ward off chronic health conditions. As we go through an ageing process, sometimes we do not pay enough attention to these rhythms which can lead to sickness.
Listen to the rhythm
Sleep itself deteriorates as we age and the natural human belief is that it is part of the ageing process. While this may be true, sleep need does not decline as we get older. In fact, sleep need is higher as we get older. So, understanding the demands of the body, paying attention to it and nurturing your sleep will go a long way in maintaining good health.
Insomnia, sleep apnea or movement disorders like restless legs and irregular sleep wake patterns are all seen in older adults. Some of the disorders mentioned affect sleep quantity and others affect sleep quality. When the quantity or quality of sleep is compromised, it results in tiredness during the day. This in turn can lead to poor dietary habits and reduced activity levels.
At this juncture, it will be useful to look at two factors to analyse how these factors can be optimised to our advantage.
Let there be light
Light is a boon to mankind, but mastering light is important to master sleep and productivity. Indulging is human nature, but dosing and moderation is the key. Light, especially blue spectrum light, which is abundant during the day, ensures that sleep hormone production melatonin is inhibited and improves alertness. Hence, exposure to natural light during daytime, either by having a desk beside the window in your office or getting out for a walk at lunchtime is important.
Similarly, limiting the light exposure in the evening is key to stimulate the production of sleepiness hormone melatonin. Melatonin production usually starts two hours before you fall asleep and avoiding bright light exposure for two hours before your bed time makes it easy to fall asleep. As we get older, melatonin levels decline and adhering to good habits will pay its dividends. Older individuals also notice a tendency to go to bed early and wake up early. If this doesn’t suit you, timing the light exposure will enable you to delay your sleepiness.
Falling asleep is a result of having enough homeostatic sleep drive or sleep drive in short. Sleep drive is your propensity to sleep and is determined by the number of hours you have been awake. An apt analogy would be, your appetite for food is determined by the number of hours you have been fasting. Similarly, waking up at a consistent time in the morning will ensure that you have enough sleep drive before you go to bed at night which will ensure smooth transition to sleep. A consistent bed time and rise time is hence of importance. However, retired adults will have too much time at hand and it is important to watch out for inconsistent bed time and rise time that may result in sleeping difficulties later.
Darkness is the cue for body to go to sleep and the first ray of light in the morning is the cue for body to be alert and awake. Understanding the body, its needs and required behavioural change will all make sure the rhythm of body is not disturbed. Nurturing your sleep and protecting it by adopting good habits will be a good place to start.
Motty Varghese is a sleep physiologist, a licensed sleep technologist with the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists in the United States and currently works as senior sleep physiologist in St James’s Hospital. He also set up the Sleep Therapy Clinic which offers CBTi. For more information visit sleeptherapy.ie. You can catch Motty speak on Saturday 11 May in the WellTalk area of WellFest 2019 in association with KBC.