Interrupted sleep and your health

Published 10:00 pm Monday, February 22, 2016

I don’t know about you, but as I’ve gotten older, my sleep patterns have certainly changed. I’m not talking about the fact that I can’t stay up as late as I used to, or that the call from Mother Nature in the middle of the night is now somewhat of a regular occurrence. I’m talking about not sleeping as well as I once did.

In a recent report from the medical journal Stroke, it was reported that sleeping poorly and awakening frequently during the night results in more than just feeling tired when you get out of bed in the morning. Failing to consistently get a good night’s sleep increases the likelihood of developing hardened blood vessels or oxygen-starved tissue in the brain.

If you’re an older boomer or senior, you already know that as you’ve aged your sleep pattern seems to change, and sometimes it takes longer to fall asleep, or insomnia begins to occur.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Our body clock has some wonderful automatic controls, called our circadian rhythm that coordinates timing of bodily functions including sleep. Changes in that rhythm can cause older people to become sleepier earlier in the evening and awaken earlier in the morning.

Aging is one factor that can contribute to sleep problems, but so too can medical and psychiatric conditions. Sleep fragmentation or disruptions can occur as often as every ten minutes and increases a number of risk factors including cardiovascular disease and severe hardening of the arteries – arteriolosclerosis – in older people’s brains. This can lead to higher levels of oxygen-starved brain tissue and further increase the risk of a stroke or cognitive impairment.

In tests, doctors found that frequent interruption or fragmentation of sleep was associated with a 27 percent higher chance of having severe arteriolosclerosis and the brain can be severely deprived of oxygen for every additional two arousals per hour of sleep further increasing the chance of cognitive loss or a stroke by 30 percent.

Cardiovascular risk factors such as body mass index and hypertension can also impact sleep patterns, as can your tobacco use history, diabetes, and other medical conditions including pain, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

Another interesting finding of this research was that people who lack sleep also have a tendency to eat or drink more while doing another activity, such as watching television.

For people with sleep apnea, or changing sleep patterns with increasing interruptions, it might be both helpful and a way to reduce risk of stroke or cognitive loss, to talk with your doctor and perhaps consider a sleep study if your insurance will cover the cost. Simply getting a prescription for a sleep aid may not “fix” the problem, and it could mask the real issue or create even more problems for you, like dependency, than it resolves.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available as a Kindle book on His podcasts can be heard weekly at Contact Ron at 828-696-9799 or by email at