Sleeping Our Way to Good Health 

By Mary Petersen 

Signal Staff Writer 

Lately I have been tracking nightly sleep phases on my Apple watch. My husband bought me the watch, hoping I would become a better runner. That didn’t happen, and then I lost the watch. 

My phone’s “find my watch” app says it’s somewhere around my home, and it even displays the circumference of the area within which I should find it. I searched for weeks, to no avail. 

If my husband is anything, he is forgiving. He bought me another watch, which I have not lost, and I do monitor my statistics when I occasionally run. But recently I have become fascinated with the sleep feature.  

The watch tracks sleep patterns by monitoring brain activity and detecting physical signs like heart rate and body movement. It measures many metrics — how long you’ve been in bed, how many hours you’ve actually slept, how much of that sleep time was spent in REM or light or deep sleep, and what your heart rate was while you slept.  

Sleep is a mystifying phenomenon that promotes optimal health. At each stage of the sleep cycle, physiological changes occur that restore our bodies, help our brains recharge, and allow us to feel rested. 

During sleep our bodies repair cellular tissue, build bone and muscle, and “flush” waste from the brain. Emotions and emotional memories are processed, and Information is cemented into memory. The immune system is strengthened to fight off illness and infection.  

The National Institute on Aging says that not getting a good night’s sleep can lead to problems such as irritability, depression, poor memory processing, forgetfulness and imbalance leading to falls and accidents. 

Lack of adequate sleep weakens the body’s immune system and can lead to serious health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.  

According to an article in the journal “Sleep Science and Practice,” approximately 30% of older adults don’t receive the recommended minimum 7 hours of sleep. This could be due to a variety of reasons including medications, health problems, or poor sleeping habits. 

SleepFoundation.org staff writer Rob Newsom explains the problem of “sleep debt.” It is the hidden cost of insufficient rest. Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep you need and the amount you actually get. Experts say it is hard to recoup that debt, especially if you have a deficit of many hours. 

I went into sleep debt writing all-night term papers in graduate school decades ago and I’m still trying to reimburse myself. 

According to a HarvardHealth.edu article, “Aging well means prioritizing sleep. Practicing good sleep hygiene matters.” To promote sufficient sleep, experts suggest maintaining a consistent sleep schedule; engaging in regular physical activity; avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol late at night; putting away electronics well before sleeping time and reading or listening to calming music instead.  

I guess my watch is doing double duty. I may use it less when I am awake than when I’m asleep, but it has become part of my strategy to catch more restful Zzzs.  

Mary Petersen is a retired COC English instructor, 30-year SCV resident, and two-time breast cancer survivor. She welcomes your comments at [email protected]

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