Why a Good Night's Sleep Is So Important for Seniors


Experiencing fitful nights of sleep that include multiple trips to the bathroom and countless repositioning on the bed is unfortunately commonplace for some seniors. After menopause, many women encounter irregular and difficult sleep patterns as their bodies adjust, and the resulting restless nights can take a toll.

Now, new research has connected these sleepless nights seniors often experience with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Rebecca Thurston, head researcher of the study and the director of the Women’s Biobehavioral Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, found that lack of sleep among seniors is correlatively linked with an increased risk of plaque buildup in blood vessels and thickened artery walls.

These findings were consistent when the amount of sleep seniors get each night was measured subjectively and objectively. “Our results indicate that short or poor sleep is associated with some increased risk for cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke,” Thurston deduced. However, she also noted that the increase in risk in relation to the amount of sleep one gets every night is moderate, not severe.

Sleep problems are especially common post-menopause, which is one of the many reasons why the study was initially conducted. After the pretty conclusive results, Thurston and her team commented on the difficulty of pinning down the reason why lack of sleep and heart disease are linked. Nervous system issues, inflammatory factors, and depression were all considered, but none were identified as the cause.

The comprehensive study examined the sleep patterns of 256 women between the ages of 40 and 60. The participants wore wrist monitors for three days so their sleep quality could be accurately measured and quantified. The women also answered detailed questionnaires to describe their perceived quality of sleep and their mood while sleeping.

The plaque buildup measured in each woman’s blood vessels increased with each hour of sleep they lost during the night. For women who only managed five or six hours of sleep the artery walls were significantly thick compared to those of the other women in the study. The findings hammer home the connection between a good night’s sleep and a long and healthy life – not finding a solution to restless nights can prove costly.

The National Sleep Foundation is a great reference to determine how much sleep you need every night to live an optimally healthy life. Seniors who aren’t staying asleep over the typical course of the night should talk to their primary care physician. The causes of sleep problems are numerous – some people experience sleep disorders like sleep apnea that require proper diagnosis, while other people are kept awake at night due to anxiety or stress.

Once you’ve determined the cause of your sleep issues, see the relevant physician, whether a pulmonologist, psychiatrist, or a neurologist. Turning off electronics an hour before bed is a great start, as is sticking to a nightly routine and writing a to-do list every night.

You owe it to your friends and family to take the proper precautions and steps to sleep as soundly as possible every night. A full night’s sleep translates to a healthier heart. When you lower your risk of heart disease you provide your loved ones with another reason to celebrate. Don’t let poor sleep keep you from living a long and happy life.

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