Bank that sleep now

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

When I was very young, my parents used to chuckle at how I, a through-and-through suburban kid, would rise so early and turn on the TV to watch … the farm report.

Now let's not pass judgment too quickly. They were both grade school educators and knew what they were doing. Namely, they were keeping the rest of the household and neighborhood safe from my mischief making abilities, at least until they could rise to start the day.

Back then, their hope was anchored in one of the four functional channels on TV. Yes, four (sometimes five). But let's not get sidetracked by age jokes.

This is about the early-rising part. It turns out maybe I should have been enjoying a few more winks in bed while I still could.

We're now learning that as adults age, they may lose their ability to create deep, restorative sleep. This, in turn, could be hurting them both mentally and physically.

After an interlude for college years (when I was still a relatively early riser) and second-shift work, I returned to an early-to-rise routine long ago. Unfortunately, it's not always accompanied by an early-to-bed pattern. Turns out that might not be terribly uncommon.

Changes in sleep quality often kick in long before people notice them, say researchers from the University of California-Berkeley who reviewed scientific literature in this week's issue of Neuron. The decline in ability to acquire deep sleep could start as early as our mid-30s, the scientists say. It happens at about the same rate for men and women, though the fairer sex generally experiences it to a lesser degree. Other studies have found sleep loss due to shift work hits everyone hard.

To be fair, the reviewers note that studies have shown it both ways: older adults get less sleep, but they might suffer less from the deficit. Further, their lapses in memory and cognitive function might not be as bad as younger people's.

To see all the parameters and conditions they explored, I encourage you to click to the study here. (Fascinating charts and graphs alert) Your own ability to remember and learn could hang in the balance.

The bottom line, researchers conclude, is: Older adults do not necessarily need less sleep, but rather their bodies become unable to register how much they need, and generate what they need.

So realize what might be happening on the floor where you work and respond to your residents accordingly.

Then get home and get to bed — and stay there. Enjoy sweet dreams and regeneration while you can.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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