Caring Currents

Too Much and Too Little Shut-Eye May Be Bad for Health

Last updated: May 15, 2008

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Do your parents skimp on sleep or slumber endlessly? Research just in adds to growing evidence that suggests poor sleep patterns can harm the body and mess with the mind.

If your parents sleep fewer than six hours a night, they're more likely to be obese than people who get the proper amount of rest, according to the new report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. The study also linked poor sleep hygiene to lower rates of physical activity across all ages.

It's not clear from this survey whether it's a sleep deficit or oversleeping that leads to inactivity, or if inactivity impacts sleep. The study doesn't draw conclusions about cause and effect. But we can. It doesn't take a government scientist to figure out that your folks need to get enough -- but not too many -- zzzzs. Sleep experts recommend people go to bed when tired and wake naturally in the morning. With all due respect, duh.

This commonsense advice may be easier said than done for the elderly, who may face a laundry list of obstacles that can make it a challenge to get some rest, including bladder issues, medications that impact snooze schedules, depression, insomnia, and muscle or joint pain.

What, then, to do with this information? Keep tabs on whether your parents are getting the right amount of rest.  Eight hours is the general guideline, though people do vary an hour or two in how much they need. But disturbed sleep, while common among the senior set, doesn't have to be a given.

A recent issue of Scientific American does a good job explaining how to remedy a sleep deficit without hitting the sack for a marathon catch-up. Adding an hour or two a night, it turns out, is a better way to pay back a sleep debt. Has that worked for your parents?

If your parents are having trouble getting adequate sleep or seem unable to wake at a reasonable hour -- especially if these patterns cause negative effects during the daytime -- talk with their doctor to try and uncover what's getting in the way of them getting forty winks. Feeling refreshed from a good's night rest is a great goal for everyone, elderly or not.

Image by Flickr user Chris Metcalf used under the Creative Commons license.