This is the third article in a series on the steps we are taking to improve our health in order to participate in and maintain an active lifestyle as we make that slow walk through our Golden Years.
Two weeks ago we discussed weight loss as I began the Nutrisystem program in an attempt to lose an unwanted twenty pounds. While the first week was not fun, the discipline required to stick to the program has not been an issue for me. Now, near the end of the third week, I am down fifteen pounds, and have almost reached my goal. Learning to eat smaller, more frequent meals has been very beneficial to the process.
Last week I made the point that exercise, in one form or another, has always been a constant in my life and will be as long as I am able to move at least one body part. Therefore, with two of the elements of my approach to better health practices now underway, I am turning my attention to improving my sleep habits. Of all of the elements necessary to maintain good health and an active lifestyle, sleep is the one I struggle with the most.
I am very envious of those who have the ability to fall asleep on demand. Helen (adorable wife) is one of those. She can lie down and be asleep in less than five minutes. Moreover, I’m convinced that she could remain asleep through a category five hurricane. Not so with me, and it has been this way for most of my adult life. I trace this condition back to two sources.
First, once I graduated college, I have never been in a position where I was permitted to sleep late. I entered the Army where I usually had to be on duty by 6:00 am at the latest. Admittedly, I was young; I was in in good physical condition and didn’t think much about it at the time, but an “early to rise” habit was being formed.
After I left active duty and entered the construction business, I was always on the job by 7: 00 am on six (and sometimes seven) days a week for the next thirty years or more. By the time I retired, a habit had been set in stone and waking up at 5 or 5:30 was the norm regardless of what time I went to bed—and I’m rarely sleepy before 11:00 pm.
Another very relevant factor in my sleep habits is that I was diagnosed with sleep apnea about fifteen years ago. I really didn’t need the diagnosis. I knew that I had issues from the time I was in my teens and shared a room with my brother who would wake me in the middle of the night with the hope that my loud snoring would cease. On occasion, Helen would do the same, but thankfully, as described above, she was able to endure the noise. Finally, after a series of episodes where I found myself sitting erect in the bed and gasping for breath, I decided it was time for a sleep study. The sleep analyst who monitored the study determined that I was waking up sixty times an hour and suffered from severe sleep apnea. I was a stroke waiting to happen.
I now wear a mask connected to a CPAP device which is a small compressor that forces air in to my nasal passages and enables me to breathe more easily. To Helen’s great delight (and to anyone forced to share a room with me) my snoring has been eliminated entirely. The immediate result was that quality of my sleep greatly improved and I finally felt more rested. Nevertheless, the mask can be uncomfortable. At times I will wake up in at around 3:00 am and, with four good hours of sleep accomplished and a somewhat bulky mask on my face to deal with, I will just lay there until 5:00 rolls around and give up.
This week, the National Sleep Foundation issued a statement that outlined their definition of a good night’s sleep. Noted first was the strong recommendation that an individual age 65 and older sleep seven to eight hours per night. It further stated (without elaborating) that five to six hours “may” be appropriate. Hopefully I’m appropriate. This amount of sleep assists with mood, alertness, decision making and the avoidance of many health issues. It also promotes weight loss through the production of leptin, a hormone which signals your body to eat less.
The other noteworthy item on this list was that people who take longer than 41 minutes to fall back to sleep after waking up, may have a problem. We have a problem…
So, with the problem is outlined, what is the approach to finding a solution going forward?
Frankly, I don’t have an answer to the waking up at 3:00 am situation. The problem is vexing to be sure and I would love to have suggestions from Easin’ Along readers as to a remedy. I especially invite readers who have overcome sleep issues to share their success stories. At the same time, if there are readers who have an issue of their own and would like suggestion for solutions, feel free to comment below. I would love to create a forum on this topic.
In the meantime, I plan to follow the basics of better sleep that most have read in search of help with this problem. Listed below are a few of them here that I obtained from WebMD:
- Shut down your computer, cell phone, and TV at least an hour before you hit the sack.
- Save your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. Think relaxation and release, rather than work or entertainment.
- Create a bedtime ritual. It’s not the time to tackle big issues. Instead, take a warm bath, meditate, or read.
- Stick to a schedule, waking up and retiring at the same times every day, even on weekends.
- Watch what and when you eat. Avoid eating heavy meals and alcohol close to bedtime, which may cause heartburn and make it hard to fall asleep and steer clear of soda, tea, coffee, and chocolate after 2 p.m. Caffeine can stay in your system for 5 to 6 hours.
- Turn out the lights. Darkness cues your body to release the natural sleep hormone melatonin, while light suppresses it.
When I retired I made a vow that one of the first things I would do is turn off the alarm clock. Looking back, it may be that an alarm clock was never needed in the first place.
At any rate, we’re going to work on the problem in our quest for better health. Good health leads to happiness, and happiness is what we’re all about as we continue Easin’ Along.