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Sleep & Ageing

Mon, Sep 7, 2009

Sleep & Ageing

 By J. Semo

Advances in science and social evolution are altering our internal clocks. We in the western world enjoy average life expectancies of over 80 years and it is anticipated that this average will reach 100 years in the near future.  By constantly moving nature’s “signposts”, are we not risking disruption to our original life “blueprint”? Have our bodies and brains evolved enough to cope with life at such a grand old age?  What about sleep – does ageing affect it? Do we age faster because the quality of our sleep drops? Why do elderly people sleep less despite requiring more rest?
Our western culture celebrates life and is obsessed with “immortality”, ignoring the fact that ageing and death are an integral part of it. We will pay the price for our pretentiousness with as yet unknown consequences.

Ageing is not easy. As we age, we are increasingly susceptible to sleep disturbances. Age creeps up on us and brings with it many misfortunate “bedfellows” such as psychiatric problems, increased risk of medical illness, chronic pain, reduced social contacts, loss of loved ones, and many others. The irony is that disturbed sleep worsens other illnesses.

Today we know that ageing is related to changes in the architecture of healthy sleep which works hand in hand with the degeneration of the brain. Older adults spend less time repairing tissues in what we call “deep sleep”. Further, they suffer changes to their internal “clock”. The consequence is that after a disruption in sleeping patterns, for example after a flight overseas, elderly people take longer to get back into normal sleeping routines. 

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