Caregivers can never let their guard down.  New studies into sleep patterns and health risks and benefits means that when a loved one is having a snooze or is off to bed caregivers must be extra vigilant.

Giving our bodies the adequate rest that it needs to function is a major challenge facing most of us today. In an effort to meet all the family and work obligations they have made, people are over-extending themselves to the point of exhaustion. By the time everything we have to do is done, we realize that instead of having time left over to take care of ourselves, it’s time to start all over again. So we tend to keep going and going without listening to our bodies and slowing down to give it the rest that it craves.

Sleep is an essential bodily function that we cannot survive for very long without. Scientific studies in mice have shown that mice with normal lifespans of two to three years were dying within months of being deprived of sleep on a regular basis. They also began to demonstrate a rapid decline in memory function and brain activity as well. Sleep deprivation has different effects on humans, however. Sleep allows the body to restore itself and the energy that it burned the previous day. Sleep also allows the body to maintain and regulate the hormones in our brains that control cognitive function and social interactions as well as to repair and rebuild injured cells. Without it, all aspects of our bodies and minds begin to deteriorate.

However, recent studies have indicated that lack of sleep may be far more detrimental to our health than previously thought – especially in the elderly sector of society. Researchers have discovered that elderly people who average less than 7.5 hours of sleep per night were at greater risk for developing heart disease. This risk is increased in the elderly who already suffer from hypertension – also known as high blood pressure.

Researchers warn families and caregivers of elderly people to monitor both their sleep patterns and their blood pressure. The risk for cardiac events stemming from lack of sleep occur most frequently when the elevated blood pressures happen at night. If changes in sleep patterns are noticed and if blood pressures continue to be elevated during the evening hours, a qualified health care professional should be contacted at once. Medication to aid in sleeping could be prescribed to the elderly who are unable to sleep more on their own. Additionally, prescriptions that they may already be taking to combat high blood pressure may need to be adjusted in order to provide the best protection against these night time spikes.

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