Patient in deep sleep on a medical bed in hospital ward.

Staying healthy as an older adult calls for deep sleep.

Growing older is always an adjustment as the human body’s needs tend to change. Also, the elderly is more susceptible to debilitating conditions, like wakefulness and the inability to sleep. It doesn’t matter what age you are. Sleep is always necessary. In fact, a recent study at the University of California – Berkeley found that deep sleep can fight off mental and physical ailments, keeping the body effectively younger.

Do Older Adults Need Sleep?

Teenagers and children require more sleep than adults. The CDC even recommends that adolescents should receive 8-10 hours and school-aged children should be getting 9 to 12 hours a night. For adults, 18 and older only, the CDC suggest 7 or more hours of sleep per night. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t need it at all. Sleep is critical for anyone. When you put your sleep health in jeopardy, your body reacts accordingly.

What Happens When You Don’t Receive Enough Deep Sleep?

According to the researchers at UC Berkeley, quality sleep is important for the elderly. The scientists linked Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and stroke in the elderly to a lack of sleep.

“Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” said the article’s senior author, Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience. “We’ve done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep, and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that.”

Other studies show that poor sleep can cause older adults cognitive functions to weaken. Furthermore, adults start to experience inadequate sleep around their 30s. By the time these people age, their lack of sleep will affect their health more and more.

Why Natural Sleep Is Important

Modern medicine has come far, but it cannot replace natural sleep. The researchers at UC Berkeley state that pills used to aid sleep do not provide the same benefits as regular deep sleep. The brain needs deep sleep to replenish most of its functions.

It is hard for older adults to sleep naturally because of a change in their brain chemistry. The brain doesn’t produce the necessary waves that promote deep curative sleep. Also, the elderly receives less of the neurochemicals that grant us the ability to switch from sleep to wakefulness effectively.

“The parts of the brain deteriorating earliest are the same regions that give us deep sleep,” said article lead author Mander, a postdoctoral researcher in Walker’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at UC Berkeley.

“The American College of Physicians has acknowledged that sleeping pills should not be the first-line kneejerk response to sleep problems,” Walker said. “Sleeping pills sedate the brain, rather than help it sleep naturally. We must find better treatments for restoring healthy sleep in older adults, and that is now one of our dedicated research missions.”

Hopefully, the researchers and doctors looking into sleep can find a way to improve the quality sleep health in older adults. This research will help prevent cognitive issues and prevent developing diseases in the future.