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Older adults who have trouble getting a good night’s sleep may be more than fatigued. New research shows they have an altered immune response to stress that might increase the likelihood of mental and physical health problems.
“This study offers more evidence that better sleep not only can improve overall well-being but also may help prevent poor physiological and psychological outcomes associated with inflammation,” explained Kathi L. Heffner, PhD, assistant professor Psychiatry at the Medical Center.
In the study, researchers found increases in a marker of inflammation in poor sleepers when compared to good sleepers. This marker is associated with poor health outcomes and even death.
Researchers found that the association between poor sleep and an increased inflammatory response to acute stress could not be explained by other factors linked to immune impairment. This included depression, loneliness and stress.
Heffner added that,
"Our study suggests that, for healthy people, it all comes down to sleep and what poor sleep may be doing to our physiological stress response, our fight or flight response."
As we age, our immune systems experience a gradual decline in effectiveness and we experience heightened inflammation. This double whammy increases risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other illnesses, as well as psychiatric challenges – and these things happen to a generally healthy older person.
When poor sleep gets into the picture, these conditions compound. “There are a lot of sleep problems among older adults,” Heffner explained. “Older adults do not have to sleep poorly. We can intervene on sleep problems in older adulthood. Helping an elderly person become a better sleeper may reduce the risk of poor outcomes associated with inflammation.”
Source: National Institute of Aging, MedicalNewsToday
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