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Why sleep is important for older adults

Team Bold was really excited to speak with Dr. Kimberley Truong, sleep expert, about all things sleep.

Kimberly Truong is a physician and Associate Clinical Professor at the School of Medicine at UC Irvine, where she focuses on sleep medicine. Kimberly is also a consultant with Curai Health. She’s seen patients with a wide variety of sleep disorders, everything from sleep apnea and insomnia to restless leg syndrome, circadian rhythm disorders, and beyond.

Question: Hi Kimberly! From a medical perspective, talk to us about why sleep is so important. 

Answer: It’s such an important question because sleep is intertwined with all of our organs and all aspects of both our physical and mental health. Having continuous poor sleep is the perfect recipe for poor physical and mental health. In terms of physical health, sleep health is closely related to cardiac health. 

Having poor sleep is related to high blood pressure – if you treat certain sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea, people’s blood pressure will normalize. Poor sleep can also be related to strokes, heart attacks, and increased risks of diabetes and glucose intolerance, as well as our immune system. There are studies that show individuals who get less than 7 hours of sleep have a poorer response to vaccines and may have more severe infections. 

Sleep and mental health are also closely aligned – when you get less sleep your mental health function is affected. Even just one night of poor sleep can make us feel more groggy, more stressed, more irritable, and we might have poorer memory. That’s because poor sleep directly affects parts of our brain that affect our mental health and acuity (particularly those parts that affect our executive functioning, our communication skills, and our mental health)

Question: What’s an advancement in sleep medicine that you’re excited about? 

Answer: For me, some of the most exciting new advances are in sleep and cognitive conditions. Just a couple of years ago, Nature released a really groundbreaking article that demonstrated that when we sleep, our brain physically washes out amyloids – protein build-ups that have been linked with certain neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Basically, our brain acts like a washing machine to remove toxins that have been found in brains with dementia. 

Question: Do our sleep needs change with age?

Answer: Yes, definitely! Generally, our sleep changes after age 65 in two ways: 

  1. Our sleep gets shorter as we get older. An individual who may have needed 7-8 hours of sleep as a young adult will often age into only needing 6-7 hours per night or even less. 
  2. Our circadian rhythm becomes more advanced – we tend to become more of an Early Bird. So if as a young adult you went to bed at 10 pm, you might age into needing to go to bed at 8 pm, or earlier. 

Question: When would you know that something is off with your sleep? When should you see a sleep physician? 

Answer: There are 3 aspects of having “good sleep”: 

  1. Good quality. Quality sleep means you don’t have any interruptions to your sleep, like choking events. You can enter into a deep sleep (REM sleep). 
  2. Good quantity. Everyone is different here, but the average of a normal quantity of good sleep is 7-8 hours per night. 
  3. Good timing. Being able to go to sleep at your regular bedtime and wake up at a regular time shows that you’re having a healthy sleep schedule. 

If someone is having issues going to bed or waking up, if you’re waking up tired, if you’re not energetic, if you’re having headaches, then I’d start to worry that something is affecting the quality and/or quantity of your sleep. Always talk to your doctor about any health or sleep-related questions or concerns! 

Question: What’s one Bold tip for better sleep?

Answer: Recommendations are personalized for everyone because sleep is so personal! But in general, a consistent bedtime and wake-up time is important. Remember that sleeping is a habit, and the brain takes in subconscious cues about when to get ready for rest, or for waking up. 

Your sleep environment is also extremely important. You want an environment that is cool, dark and has no electronics or blue light. 

And finally: your bed is for the three S’s – sleep, sickness, and sex. Nothing else! Train your brain to associate bed with private life, comfort, and rest. 

Optimizing your sleep schedule 

We now know what healthy sleep should look like for optimal health. Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge how important exercise is to maintain a healthy sleep cycle. As mentioned, sleep is fundamental for so many functions of the body, and as we age it’s important to take preventative measures to optimize our health. 

So, how does exercise contribute to better sleep?

Studies have shown, a regular exercise routine can improve sleep for adults by reducing stress levels, reducing insomnia, and improving sleep onset. Regularly reducing stress levels allows active adults to fall asleep faster, and stay asleep throughout the night, improving the quality of sleep. 

In turn when a healthy sleep cycle is achieved other key functions of the body, which have a significant impact on our health, improve as well. Issues such as excessive weight gain, energy during the day, and increased cortisol levels are all improved as a result of a healthy sleep cycle. 

How can Bold help?

Bold offers a variety of programs that make it easy to stay active as you age. Whether you’re in a seated or standing program, our expert trainers have customized plans specific to your individual needs, accessible to you anytime, anywhere.

New to Bold? Try these quick and easy tests to assess your strength, balance, and mobility: