Study confirms exercise helps seniors sleep

Older people who exercise moderately on a regular basis take less time getting to sleep at night and generally sleep longer and more soundly than their sedentary counterparts. This was the finding of sleep researchers at the Stanford Center for Research and the Emory University Sleep Disorders Program in Atlanta.

Two groups of older volunteers were studied. One embarked on an exercise program; the other remained sedentary. Within just a few months, it was apparent that the exercisers were falling asleep faster and sleeping almost an hour longer than the couch potatoes, said Emory's Donald Bliwise.

Many factors can affect the quality of sleep for older people, including depression, neurological difficulties, sleep apnea, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

Besides daily exercise, establishing a sleep routine and a normal bedtime is important in conditioning the body and mind to begin a period of rest, sleep experts say. Don't watch disturbing news or movies right before bedtime and avoid drinking alcohol if you are having trouble sleeping.

Reducing the amount of caffeine consumed - in teas, colas and chocolate drinks as well as coffee - may help with insomnia.

Try to get exposure to sunlight early in the day. This helps set up the body's clock and condition it to wake and sleep cycles. Artificial or fluorescent light does not have the same beneficial effect.

A leisurely walk after dinner often helps older people sleep. More vigorous exercise like jogging or working out on a treadmill or stair machine is not a good idea. The elevated pulse which occurs during prolonged exercise often tends to energize and awake people and is better done at midday or earlier.

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