Daylight Saving, Insomnia and Cognitive Function
Daylight Saving Time was created in 1918 to make the best use of the longer daylight hours during this half of the year by setting clocks forward one hour in spring and back in fall. Americans give up an hour of sleep in the early hours on a March, moving their clocks ahead for daylight saving time. For Europeans, that transition occurs a couple weekends later.
Researchers have shown that people never fully adjust their circadian rhythms to the hour shift associated with daylight saving time. Springing ahead by an hour was most difficult for night owls, those people prone to wake up and go to sleep late, they found.
Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s (such as, but not limited to, people) environment. They are found in most living things, including animals, plants and even many tiny microbes.
In another study published in 2008, they also found evidence that it mattered whether one was an “owl” or a “lark”. After examining the sleep cycles of volunteers, researchers suggest the transition into daylight saving time in spring was more problematic for owls, while the transition out in fall was more problematic for larks.
Clearly, the hour time shift can interfere with sleep. Sleep problems have been associated with everything from disasters, such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident and the Challenger space shuttle explosion to health problems, such as obesity and psychiatric problems.
Researchers have also determined that a lack of sleep diminishes your attention and concentration, thereby affecting your problem solving abilities. Without adequate rest, you cannot learn well. It also keeps you from “consolidating” memories, so you cannot remember what you learned from day to day.
Insomnia is a common complaint in older adults. Chronic sleep difficulties affect older people more often than younger adults. The homoeostatic regulation, or your body’s natural ability to regulate your body’s temperature, changes as we age. This regulation of temperature helps us reach and maintain the best level for the best sleep.
Some factors that contribute to insomnia in seniors may include medical illnesses and medication use, both of which are more common in older adults. Some seniors also have too little physical activity and a reduced exposure to daylight.
With insomnia, there is a difference in the sexes. Men lose more of the deep, or stage 3 sleep than do women. Daytime sleepiness is more frequent in older men than in older women. Haven’t you noticed male seniors nodding off more often than the women?
While younger and middle aged adults often complain of difficulty in falling asleep, seniors more often experience nocturnal awakening, early morning awakenings, and non-refreshing sleep.
Some good sleep practices that doctors recommend for insomniacs are often ignored by the elderly. Those who are retired, without the regular schedule of a job are more likely to enjoy daytime napping, irregular arising time, and increased time in bed compared to employed people. These practices are not helpful trying to beat insomnia.
Good sleep practices:
· Follow a regular schedule. Be consistent with your times for waking up, eating, exercising, winding down, and sleeping.
· Bedroom rule: Your bedroom should be reserved for sleep and sex.
· Seek peace and dark. Try keeping your room temperature in the upper 60's, and reduce light and noise.
· Exercise regularly (doesn't that help so many things?) but no later than three to five hours before bedtime.
· Don't keep a television in the bedroom. The bright glow of a television doesn't help create a dark, quiet place to lay your head.
· Alcohol is not a good sleeping aid. Alcohol makes you more likely to fall asleep, but less likely to stay asleep.
· Don't underestimate your caffeine intake.
· Don't eat a large meal right before bed.
· Don't stay in bed if you can't fall asleep. Get up and read or pursue another relaxing activity until you feel sleepy again, then return to bed.
Seniors often spend more time in bed than their younger counterparts, but nighttime sleep is typically shallow and fragmented. Later in life, REM sleep declines gradually by about 10 minutes per decade. Sleep fragmentation, as measured by wake time, increases by 30 minutes per decade during late life.
Did you know that sleeping one extra hour a night can lower your heart attack risk by 33 percent? Skimping on sleep raises risk for everything from high blood pressure to heart failure, stroke, diabetes, fatal heart disease, and even obesity.
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