JoAnn French, 72, demonstrates a knee-drops pose. (SHNS photo by Lara Cerri / Tampa Bay Times)
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Work your way to a sound sleep

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CINCINNATI - How would you rate your sleeping habits? Hopefully, favorably, considering we spend about a third of our life sleeping and about half the population deals with sleep issues.

According to research, the average adult sleeps fewer than seven hours per night. Chronic sleep deprivation can negatively affect our immune system, making us more vulnerable to many health issues, and it certainly has a negative effect on our daily moods, performance capabilities and energy levels. Amazingly, it even has an impact on weight.

Michael Bruis, Ph.D., author of "Beauty Sleep" and the clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health in Glendale, Ariz., said two hormones -- ghrelin and leptin -- are key in this process. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you when to eat. When you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have less leptin. You are eating more, plus your metabolism is slower when you are sleep-deprived, Bruis says.

Three common sleep myths

  • Myth 1: You need eight hours of sleep.

Fact: Eight is not necessarily the magic number; it is just an average. Seven to nine hours of sleep is generally recommended for both older and younger adults to function at their best.

  • Myth 2: Sleeping longer will help fatigue.

Fact: Oversleeping alters your sleep pattern, which can make for a difficult time to fall asleep the following night. If you are getting seven to nine hours of sleep and still feel fatigued, you could have issues that need medical attention.

  • Myth 3: You don't need naps.

Fact: A short nap, no longer than 10 to 30 minutes in early to mid-afternoon, can give you a boost of energy. However, naps late in the day can mess up your sleep cycle, making it more difficult to get to sleep at night.

Conditioning yourself to fall asleep

While there are many sleep issues that may need the attention of a physician, the most common causes for insomnia in older adults are poor daytime habits and a poor sleep environment. Here are some tips:

  • Let the sunshine in: Spend some time outside, particularly in the morning. Sunlight stimulates your body to produce melatonin, which is a natural hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
  • The sleep/exercise connection: Physical activity gives sound sleeping a big boost! However, timing is important, as exercising too close to bedtime could give you too much energy to sleep soundly. Do 20 to 30 minutes of cardio earlier in the day for the most sleep-enhancing benefit.
  • Eating habits: Avoid rich, heavy meals later in the evening. Fatty foods are harder to digest, making a lot of work for the stomach and, perhaps, an uncomfortable night's sleep.
  • Sleep routine: A cool, dark and quiet room is best for sleeping. Develop a nightly routine that relaxes you, such as reading, listening to music or soaking in a hot bath. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. The regularity will help to set your sleep-wake clock, improving the quality of your sleep.
  • Don't be a clock watcher: Cover the clock by your bed or turn it around so you can't see what time it is when you wake up in the night. Clock watching can create stress and make it difficult to go back to sleep.
  • Manage stress: Deep breathing, meditation, progressive relaxation and performing easy stretches are stress-management tools that can help with the transition between being awake and ready for sleep.

Stretches to help reduce muscle tension and get you ready for a good night's sleep:

  • Palm-tree pose

This is a whole-body stretch. Standing tall with feet together, clasp hands, palms facing outward. While inhaling, slowly stretch arms upward, palms now facing upward. Lift heels off the floor, stretching body upwards as far as you can. Exhaling slowly, lower arms and heels.

  • Child's pose

This is a very relaxing yoga pose that stretches backs and hips. Beginning on hands and knees, sit back into heels while stretching arms forward. Relax into the stretch. Move the straight arms to the right side and you will be stretching your left side. Hold for a few seconds, then repeat on opposite side.

  • Knee drops

This is a hip and lower-back stretch. Lying on your back, bend knees with feet flat on floor, relaxing arms to the sides. Keeping shoulder blades on the floor, drop knees to the right side, turning head to the left. Take several deep breaths, repeating to opposite side.

  • Pretzel stretch

This targets hips and outer thighs. Sitting on floor with back straight, extend legs to the front. Cross left leg over right leg, placing foot flat on the floor. Turn upper body to the left, placing elbow of opposite arm to the outside of the bent knee. Hold 15 to 30 seconds; change legs and repeat.

Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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