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Sleep and Health

Older couple sleeping

Poor quality sleep and inadequate duration have been associated with increased cardiovascular disease, dementia, and even death.

Ah, sleep. As quoted by the English dramatist Thomas Dekker in the 16th century: “Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together.” While the importance of getting a restful night’s sleep has been well known for centuries, sleep is receiving more and more attention in the news for how important it is to health. Poor quality sleep and inadequate duration have been associated with increased cardiovascular disease, dementia, and even death. Even less harmful outcomes, such as less optimal memory, impaired cognition and function, can really impact one’s day.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, as people get older, there are changes in “sleep architecture,” the basic structure of one’s sleeping pattern (stages and cycles). According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleeping patterns vary in the stages and cycles a person moves through to achieve optimal rest. There are two types of sleep: Rapid Eye Movement and Non-Rapid Eye Movement. Rapid Eye Movement sleep is when we dream. Ideally, one quarter of our sleep is spent in this stage, which helps process the day and is good for integration of certain aspects of memory and learning.

There are certain key features that can be helpful to understand when evaluating sleep. The first is sleep efficiency—how much sleep one gets while they are in bed. Sleep latency is how long it takes to fall asleep. Sleep fragmentation is how many times one wakes up during the night. All these patterns add up to what may very well be part of that “chain” that binds sleep and the health of our bodies together.

There are off-the-shelf innovative consumer technologies that can allow key aspects of sleep to be recorded daily over time. The technology of “actigraphy” is a non-invasive way to measure rest/activity cycles through a wrist-worn sensor that can estimate sleep patterns. While this is not the gold standard of the more invasive polysomnography (PSG) that is the basis of a medical sleep study, it can allow for individual self-monitoring and potentially offer insight into one’s sleep cycle.

Currently, the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Nursing is investigating sleep across the lifespan, with the use of individual self-monitoring, as part of their research mission supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research/National Institute of Health at their UManage Center. Here at the center, we study ways people self-manage chronic health conditions and troublesome associated symptoms such as sleep disturbances and fatigue.

The UManage Center is currently recruiting for a study that looks at sleep self-monitoring among people age 65 and older. If you are interested in participating in a four-week study, where the researchers come to you, and if you have trouble sleeping, give Raeann a call at 978-808-4994; recruitment is open.