Sleep Problems May Be Early Indicator of Behavioral Health Distress in Older Adults
Margot Radding, TBH 2015 Summer Intern Carleton College
What: A recent study by researchers in Canada observed the sleep problems encountered most often in older adults with and without anxiety or depression. Interviews that surveyed each participant’s sleep quality were given to over 2,500 subjects over 65 years of age. The results indicated that waking up frequently during the night, taking sleep medication, and lethargy during the day are associated with the distinct risk of meeting the criteria for a mood disorder. Only 4% of those without anxiety or depression struggled to stay awake during social activities, driving, or eating. This level was doubled for those with anxiety and depression. Of those without mood or anxiety disorders, 90% believed their quality of sleep was good. Conversely, more than 25% of those with depression rated their sleep as poor.
Why It Matters: Seniors suffering from mood disorders tend to self medicate to ameliorate their sleep problems. However, sleep medication is associated with the risk of suffering from a mood disorder. Trouble sleeping may be the first signs that a senior is not mentally healthy. Daytime sleepiness reduces the likeliness that seniors will engage in an active lifestyle, which may further contribute to depressed mood and anxious behaviors.
The Takeaway: Sleeping problems are part of a cycle that reduces the mental health of a senior. Low quality sleep leads to a low quality life; a non-active day leads to a sleepless night. Engaging in active programs, social groups, or exercise classes may be key to reducing depressive and anxious symptoms. In addition, professionals should be sensitive to changes in sleep patterns in their clients.
Want to Think Better? Take a Walk in the Woods
Maddie Snyder, TBH 2015 Summer Intern Trinity College
What: A recent study out of Stanford considered the relative benefits of outdoor environments on cognition. Sixty randomly assigned subjects participated in a 50-minute walk in a natural area or an urban environment. Assessment of cognitive functioning was completed before and after the walk. Compared to the urban walk, the nature walk resulted in a significant decrease in anxiety, rumination, and increased working memory performance.
Why This Matters: These findings further the understanding of the influence of brief nature experiences on cognition. It also helped lay a foundation for future research on the mechanisms underlying these positive reactions to a walk in nature. It gives scientific evidence reassuring the health benefits of nature.
The Takeaway: This simple yet elegant study is a reminder of the value of spending time in a natural environment, only with a cognitive twist. Plan more activities for your community that offer the chance to get outside. On a personal note, consider moving your workout, lunch break or even your team meeting to the park or nearby garden. This time spent in nature not only boosts your physical health and mood, but also benefits your cognition.