Booming Forward: How the internal clock called the ‘circadian rhythm’ can impact the health of seniors

SALT LAKE CITY -- The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock that reminds us when we're tired and need some sleep.

We spend an awful lot of time sleeping, about 3,000 hours a year.

By the time a person turns 55, they've slept on average 165 thousand hours. That's 6,875 days, nearly 19 years.

Dr. Kelly Baron is a sleep specialist at the University of Utah Sleep-Wake Center.

"It`s like the basic building block of our metabolism," Dr. Baron said. "We can`t run our clocks 24 hours a day.  We need to rest and restore and if we`re not getting that, there`s a lot of impact on many different systems."

Sleep needs don`t necessarily change as we age, but for older adults, getting that sleep can be more difficult.

'What happens as you age, there`s just an increase in pain, aches and pains and other illnesses," Dr. Baron said.

Many older couples find it increasingly difficult to share a bed with their partner, sometimes leading to what`s often referred to as a "sleep divorce."

"Having that time together to talk or cuddle or whatever they`re going to do, and then have their own sleep in their own space," Baron said. "Actually, people sleep better separately in many cases."

If a person feels they may sleep better in a separate bed or even separate room, Dr. Baron advises couples talk about it.

"I really want couples to have permission to be able to discuss and negotiate their sleep environment, and if the agree they sleep separate to not feel bad about it," Dr. Baron said.

When it comes to napping during the day, while some people benefit, many do not.

"You get into a pattern of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul," Dr. Baron said. "You`re missing sleep at night, you`re getting it during the day and people are drowsy."

For a better night`s sleep, setting a regular sleep pattern and sticking to it is first and foremost.

"You need to have a really good signal of daytime, you need to get light, activity, movement in order to sleep at night," Dr. Baron said.

There are many reasons for older adults to fall out of healthy sleep patterns, but Dr. Baron says you don`t have to live with it, you just have to work on it.

"You don`t have to accept that having poor sleep is just a part of aging and that there`s something you can do to improve it."

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