Improve Fitness by Addressing Quantity and Quality of Sleep

Quantity and quality of sleep can affect emotional well-being. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. People tend to sleep more lightly and for shorter periods as they age. About half of all people over 65 years of age have frequent sleeping problems, such as insomnia. Inadequate sleep creates a "sleep debt" that eventually must be repaid. Signs of sleep deprivation include daytime drowsiness (including drowsiness during boring activities), or falling asleep within five minutes of lying down.

Too little sleep results in an inability to concentrate. It can also impair memory, physical performance, judgment and reaction time. People who chronically suffer from a lack of sleep -- either because they do not spend enough time in bed or because they have an untreated sleep disorder -- are at greater risk of developing depression.

During deep sleep, activity is drastically reduced in parts of the brain that control emotions, decision-making processes and social interactions. This suggests that adequate deep sleep may help maintain optimal emotional and social functioning.

Those who experience sleep deprivation have decreased levels of leptin and increased levels of ghrelin in their blood. Leptin signals to the brain that the body has enough to eat. Ghrelin stimulates hunger and food intake. It is hypothesized that decreased leptin levels and increased ghrelin levels stimulate overeating.

Tips for a good night's sleep

Help your patients improve their sleep and their emotional well-being by offering these tips:

  • Set a schedule. Turn in and get up at the same time each morning, even on weekends.
  • Be physically active. Daily physical activity aids with sleep. Try to exercise at least three hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
  • Relax before bed. Relaxing routines such as taking a warm bath or reading can make it easier to fall sleep.
  • Sleep until sunlight. If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body's internal biological clock reset itself each day.
  • Don't lie in bed awake. If you can't fall asleep within 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something else until you feel tired. Maintain a comfortable temperature in the bedroom.