BOLDER HEALTH Kristina Grabnickas, M.S.N., A.R.N.P., clinical coordinator at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, says that quality sleep offers important health benefits.
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our ability to sleep will never earn you accolades. It will never help you become more popular or win anyone’s admiration. But it will help you stay sharp, energetic and healthy. Sleep, as it turns out, can be powerful medicine — if you do it right. It’s important to understand that sleep now isn’t the same as it was when we were younger. According to the National Institutes of Health, as we age, we need less sleep. The problem is, many of us have trouble maintaining the same quality.
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Studies reveal that 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep issues. “The key to good sleep is establishing a routine,” says Kristina Grabnickas, a nurse practitioner and clinical coordinator at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine. “Be consistent in when you go to bed and when you wake up, and you’ll establish a circadian rhythm.” The circadian clock is a 24-hour body cycle affected by sunlight. It regulates hormones such as melatonin, which is secreted during the night and promotes sleep, as well as other processes such as body temperature.
Sleeping at a time that’s in sync with this rhythm is important for healthy sleep. It’s also important to watch what you eat. “Avoid alcohol,” Grabnickas cautions. “Don’t eat anything heavy, and eliminate caffeine after lunch because these things will interfere with a good night’s sleep.” As we age, we often sleep less deeply and wake more often during the night. Older adults can have trouble falling asleep. An NIH study shows that 13 percent of men and 36 percent of women need more than 30 minutes to doze off. “Don’t just lay there if you can’t fall asleep,” Grabnickas says. “Get up and read by a soft light — and don’t try to go back to bed until you’re really ready.” She says it’s important to average between seven and nine hours of continuous sleep each night: “I know too many people who only get a few hours of sleep a night during the week, believing they can make it up on the weekends. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.” One thing that can work is taking naps. “Studies show that naps can be very helpful,” Grabnickas says, “as long as they’re no longer than 20 minutes.” Too many people believe that poor sleep is just a normal part of the aging process, she says: “Sleep patterns can change, but disturbed sleep, or waking up tired every day, are not a part of normal aging.” Not sleeping well can lead to a number of problems. Poor sleep can contribute to mood swings, attention issues and forgetfulness. Poor sleep is also associated with a poorer quality of life. In addition, not sleeping well can have a connection to Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and obesity. On the other hand, seven to nine hours of good-quality sleep can improve your memory, help with your mind and brain process during the day, and even improve your professional and personal relationships. “People always look to diet and exercise,” Grabnickas concludes. “But sleep is every bit as important, and too often overlooked.”
GB EXTRA Visit GrowingBolderMagazine.com to listen to our Growing Bolder Radio conversation with Kristina Grabnickas and to get more realworld advice from other members of the UCF College of Medicine faculty.