You're getting sleepy

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Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor

Sleep quality, or a lack thereof, will no doubt be familiar to anyone who has had children.

Even if without progeny, some of you may relate to the following: fall asleep around 10:30 p.m. Wake up around midnight when one's sister/roommate/significant other comes home. Go back to sleep, wake up at 2 a.m. after a nightmare. Fall asleep, wake up at 5 a.m. to toss a purring cat sprawled across your side out of the room. Go back to sleep. Stir at the appearance of dawn's first light and put a pillow over one's head to block out the light. Awaken at 7:30 a.m. by either a husband or cat, one of which has hopefully brought coffee. Wonder how, with nine hours of sleep, one feels exhausted.

I'm guessing parts of this sound familiar to many of you. For all our discussion in healthcare about diet and exercise (and why you should quit smoking), it is far easier to blow off the importance of sleep — both getting enough and making it count. To run full-steam ahead without a full eight hours is considered a badge of honor, whether you are treating patients or cramming for a college exam.

We already know that shift work takes a toll on the body. Now, with a plethora of evidence increasingly indicating that not getting enough sleep does nothing much more than hasten your mortal demise, two studies stand out.

Johns Hopkins researchers found that older women with disturbed and fragmented sleep were three times more likely to be placed in a long-term care facility than cohorts with better sleep patterns. This was in the July issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. To be clear, these are people who wake up after falling asleep or sleep badly. They are, in other words, me in 50 years.

What that means for a quality long-term care facility is that sleep shouldn't be assumed to be a given; it's something that should be part of a care plan. Monitoring equipment is increasingly providing data about resident sleeping habits to caregivers, and more facilities are recognizing the need for a quieter atmosphere in the evenings.

There's also a sleep issue that attracted notice in the New York Times this week that has impact on residents and employees of color: When it comes to shut-eye, African-Americans are at a disadvantage.

“Non-Hispanic whites get more and better-quality sleep than people of other races, studies repeatedly show. Blacks are the most likely to get shorter, more restless sleep,” the newspaper reports. Scientists are still figuring out the reasons why — and the role of socioeconomics — but it could shine some light on the effects of a lack of sleep, such as an increased risk of obesity.   

Wherever you are, or whatever you do, you cannot always control the forces that keep residents, or yourself, awake. There will always be some restless nights, a cat that sneaks in to pounce on you, or a siren that jolts you awake.

But it's worthwhile to act on what you can change to bring on a restful night of Z's for you, and your residents.

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 Marty Stempniak.