Sleep and Social Participation Link May Be Key to Healthy Aging

A few years ago I took several courses on the importance of sleep and its impact of the body. You can check out many aspects covered in a series of posts I have listed on my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep?

The subjects covered on my Page apply to all ages, from school kids to seniors. However, it seems that getting a good night’s sleep, however, becomes more difficult for some folks as they age.

A recent study at the University of Missouri tied good sleep with social participation and healthy aging.

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Sleep may be one of the most important factors for well-being; yet, according to the CDC, one in three adults does not get enough. Lack of sleep can lead to potential cognitive declines, chronic diseases and death. Now, research from the University of Missouri finds that older adults who have trouble sleeping, could benefit from participating in social activities, in particular attending religious events.

“Social connectedness is a key component for health and well-being for older adults,” said Jen-Hao Chen, assistant professor of health sciences at the MU School of Health Professions and the Truman School of Public Affairs. “Close connections to, and participation in, social groups provides a sense of belonging and can be essential for healthy aging.”

Yet despite past attention to the link between social participation and many different health outcomes, little research has been dedicated to linking social participation and another critical health outcome for older adults—sleep.

To study the relationship between sleep and social participation for older adults, Chen analyzed two waves of data collected over a five year period from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project. He looked at three aspects of social participation; volunteering, attending religious services and being part of organized group activities. He then compared the data to sleep outcomes measured by actigraphy—wearable wrist sleep trackers. Results showed that older adults with greater levels of social participation were getting better sleep.

However, Chen says despite the strong associations between social participation and sleep, social participation does not necessarily lead to better sleep. The strong associations he found could also be due to those already sleeping well may feel well enough to be more active socially. His future research on sleep will continue to use innovative sleep measurements to understand the role various social relationships have on sleep behaviors and outcomes.

“When it comes to the discussion of healthy lifestyle, being socially connected and sleeping well are not often mentioned together,” Chen said. “Yet sleep, just like physical activity and diet, can have significant impacts on our health outcomes, and is profoundly affected by our everyday social life. To promote sleep health we must consider a comprehensive approach that emphasizes the role of engaging in our communities, as well as getting enough and better sleep.”

The study “Social Participation and Older Adults’ Sleep” was published in the Journal of Social Science and Medicine. Chen collaborated with Diane Lauderdale and Linda Waite at the University of Chicago on the study.

If you find yourself uneasy about your own sleeping habits, these suggestions from the National Institute on Aging may be juest what the doctor ordered.

There are many things you can do to help you get a good night’s sleep. Here are some ideas:

Follow a regular sleep schedule. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Try to avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening, as it may keep you awake at night.

Develop a bedtime routine. Take time to relax before bedtime each night. Some people watch television, read a book, listen to soothing music, or soak in a warm bath.

Keep your bedroom dark, not too hot or too cold, and as quiet as possible.

Have a comfortable mattress, a pillow you like, and enough blankets for the season.

Exercise at regular times each day but not within 3 hours of your bedtime.

Make an effort to get outside in the sunlight each day.

Be careful about when and how much you eat. Large meals close to bedtime may keep you awake, but a light snack in the evening can help you get a good night’s sleep.

Stay away from caffeine late in the day. Caffeine (found in coffee, tea, soda, and hot chocolate) can keep you awake.

Drink fewer beverages in the evening. Waking up to go to the bathroom and turning on a bright light break up your sleep.

Remember that alcohol won’t help you sleep. Even small amounts make it harder to stay asleep.

Use your bedroom only for sleeping. After turning off the light, give yourself about 20 minutes to fall asleep. If you’re still awake and not drowsy, get out of bed. When you feel sleepy, go back to bed.

Pleasant dreams…

Tony

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Filed under aging, good night's sleep, sleep

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