Sleep is a periodic and reversible physiological state, characterized by the temporary suppression of consciousness, by partially abolishing the sensitivity and slowing down the functions of organic life (respiratory rhythm, heart rate, muscle relaxation, decrease of temperature by about 0.5 degrees C, decrease of secretory functions).

 While many of us believe that sleep is a temporal stretch in which nothing happens, sleep is, in fact, at least neurologically, a very busy time, a “second state” with its own complex and varied mental and physical activities that help the brain and body develop smoothly and function well. Sleep is a basic physiological need, such as thirst and hunger, without which we cannot exist.

Sufficient and restful sleep protects mental and physical health, increasing the quality of life. The activities we do during the day depend largely on what happens while we sleep, when the body does not sleep, but works to support healthy brain functioning and maintain physical health.

Most people need, on average, about eight hours of restful sleep to function properly. It is important to find the amount of sleep necessary for your body and then try to reach that number of hours. As a general rule, if we wake up tired and feel a strong need to sleep throughout the day, it is obvious that we do not get enough sleep.

Restful sleep implies:

  • 10 – 11 hours in children
  • 8.5 – 9.5 hours in adolescents
  • 7-9 hours in adults

A survey conducted by the American Cancer Society concludes that people who sleep less than 6 hours a night or sleep more than 9 hours have a 30% higher death rate than those who typically sleep 7 – 8. hours. Even those who slept less than 6 hours and generally had no health problems had a death rate 1.8 times higher than those who slept “normal” hours.

The absence of quality sleep brings many problems:

  • It affects the cognitive processes. While we sleep, the brain prepares for the next day, forming new ways by which we can learn and remember various information. Studies show that restful sleep improves learning ability, helps us focus better and be more creative. Sleep deficiency alters activity in certain parts of the brain, making decision-making, emotion and behavior management difficult, and the ability to cope with changes.
  • Affects muscle mass. Loss of muscle mass is one of the characteristics already visible with advanced age, which It has been shown that one or two nights in a row of total sleep deprivation increases the level of nitrogen excreted in the urine within 24 hours, which can slow down the accumulation of smooth muscle tissue. Poor sleep slows down caloric burns and promotes the consumption of muscle tissue for energy.
  • Affects weight loss programs. Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 7 hours a night tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of obesity. Sleep deprivation can affect the variables associated with body composition (the proportions between body mass and fat) and create changes among hormones that control appetite and body composition.
  • Increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Deficiency of sleep over long periods of time is associated with increased blood pressure, increased heart rate and higher levels of certain chemicals that increase the risk of inflammation. Seniors already have a higher tendency to develop blood pressure issues, so that is why sleep is becoming even more important.
  • Increases the risk of diabetes. Scientists have found that people who usually sleep less than 5 hours a night have an increased risk of developing diabetes. The lack of deep sleep changes the way the body produces glucose. This is especially important in advanced age, as there are other factors that also contribute to getting diabetes.
  • Affects the degree of motivation and the mood of good mood. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to long-term mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Research has shown that many people suffering from anxiety and depression sleep less than 6 hours per night.
  • It affects the immune system. A rested organism is much stronger and can be better protected from infections and colds.

Among the factors that negatively influence a quality sleep are:

  • Caffeine consumption too much or too late during the day;
  • Too much emotional stress;
  • Too much artificial light and the use of the TV in the bedroom;
  • Inappropriate food or meals consumed at late hours;
  • Lack of movement.

Healthy sleep habits and, by implication, good sleep hygiene can make a big difference in the quality of life. Whenever we can make small changes in lifestyle, to improve the quality of sleep.

There are a few techniques that help you get a better sleep:

  • Maintain a regular schedule of bedtime and wake-up times. Try to fall asleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day, even at the end of the week. In this way, the biological clock of the body is adjusted, which will help you to fall asleep easier and have a quiet sleep.
  • Avoid sleeping in the afternoon. Afternoon sleep helps you complete your daily tasks, but it keeps you awake at night and disrupts your normal sleep schedule.
  • Do not drink caffeine drinks 4 or 6 hours before bedtime and try to minimize the consumption of caffeine products
  • Avoid alcohol and too-heavy foods before bedtime. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine disrupt sleep. Heavy or spicy foods can irritate your gut and keep you awake longer. It is advisable to avoid any kind of food at least 2 hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly. Intense physical exercises are recommended during the day, but not before bedtime. If you cannot move at an alert pace, you can practice any type of exercise: walking more, doing squats or sit-ups, etc. It is important to move and consume energy.
  • Prepare the room for sleep. The bedroom must meet certain conditions to help you have a peaceful sleep. First, the temperature should not be higher than 19 degrees Celsius. Specialists recommend that there is no TV set in the bedroom, and if there is one, turn it off 30 minutes before bedtime. Try to remove any source of noise or light. You can rely on curtains, eye masks, ear plugs, “white noise” devices, which play relaxing songs or sounds.
  • Practice a technique of relaxation before bedtime. A relaxing activity, practiced just before bedtime, in a diffused light, helps you make the transition from demanding daytime activities to the peace you need to fall asleep.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress. Make sure the mattress is solid, but comfortable. Also pay attention to its appearance, since it is recommended to use the same mattress for no longer than 10 years.
  • Choose the right pillows. Try using a comfortable pillow, adapted to your sleeping style (back, side, etc.), and if you are allergic to dust, choose an anti-allergic pillow.
  • Use the bed only for sleeping. If you cannot sleep, it is preferable to get up and go to another room, where you can do something relaxing. The moment you feel tired again, you can return to the bedroom. The bed should only be used for sleep, so the association between bed and sleep is strengthened.

Waltz your way into a better life

CC-BY-2.0 | Flickr images reviewed by File Upload Bot (Magnus Manske) | Photographs by Alex Proimos

As we advance in age, it is important to maintain a balanced and active life, but it is equally important to acknowledge that the range of activities we can perform diminishes.

That is why performing some physical activity is not as important as performing the right type of physical activity, taking into consideration the limitations that occur with aging:

One of the major risks regarding the elderly is connected to falling: as we advance in age, while our total body mass does not necessarily grow, our overall fat percentage is on the rise, coupled with reduced muscle mass. This contributes to loss of muscle strength, while endurance and balance are also affected, all these increasing the risk of falling (with potential for serious injury).

With this fear of falling comes a decrease in activity, which leads to further loss of balance, strength, endurance, all completing a downward spiral that could prove very harmful. There is also the aspect of „mental fitness” with cognitive functions needing to be stimulated in order to have a healthy and active life. While exercise has a positive effect on mental state, not every type of physical activity has a direct positive impact on cognitive functions.

Dancing is one of the activities that checks all the boxes:

  • It can be adapted to your current fitness level, so that it can be helpful and, most important, risk-free;
  • It helps improve overall fitness no matter the current level;
  • It improves heart condition, as it is a type of cardiovascular exercise that people preffer, as it does not require specific equipment (as opposed to riding a bicyle, for instance);
  • Besides strength, it also improves balance, which significantly reduces the risk of injury sustained from falling;
  • It could reduce joint pain and stiffness, resulting in less discomfort in everyday moving around, a massive aspect when it comes to maintaining a functional and independent lifestyle;
  • Dancing also improves timing, coordination, and multitasking, which stimulates brain activity, helping in preventing dementia and other degenerative cognitive conditions;

…and while it can be done by yourself, it is always more fun with company, which has its benefits as well:

  • It improves communication abilities;
  • It makes you feel less lonely, which decreases the risks of depression;

CC-BY-SA-3.0 | Self-published work

The “WHY” was easy to cover, but the “HOW” does not require a lot more effort: head towards your nearest seniors center and ask if they provide dancing classes; other than that, just get your “dancing shoes” (hint: almost any shoes will do!)