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Older Adults and a Good Night's Sleep

Sleep research has been a personal area of interest ever since I took a course in it during my undergraduate days. Dr. Raymond Rainwater at the State University of New York in Oneonta taught the course and I dedicate this article to him. After graduation, I moved to Houston Texas to work as a Sleep Lab Technician at Baylor College of Medicine where both clinical evaluation and sleep research were conducted. It was an eye opening experience, which further reinforced my career path!

pillows on a bed

Sleep Physiology

It's complex! First, a look at brain activity. Each night the brain goes through 4-5, 90-120 minute long sleep cycles. Within each cycle, the brain waves change in frequency, classified as stages of sleep.

What makes us sleep?

Circadian rhythms generated by the suprechiasmic nuclei (SCN) located in the brain. The SCN serves as an internal “biological clock” that controls body temperature, levels of alertness and levels of activity. During sleep, the SCN signals the pineal gland to release melatonin and the pituitary gland it release growth hormone. Melatonin increases sleepiness and relaxation. Several other important hormones are released during sleep such as ADH, Oxytocin, and Prolactin.

Read more about hormones released during sleep and their influence on stress reduction in this article.

The release of hormones is one of the ways sleep is maintains over-all health and wellness! Across a life span sleep changes occur. Infants spend a lot of time sleeping. As we age sleep duration and time spent in REM sleep decreases.

The Sleep Prescription for Older Adults

Quantity versus the quality of sleep.

  • Sleep quantity
    • Seven to nine hours per night
  • Sleep “quality” or “efficiency” a measure based on the number of times one wakes up during sleep
    • You fall asleep in 30 minutes or less 
    • You seasonally through the night with no more than one awakening
    • if you wake up, you drift back to sleep within 20 minutes

Good sleep practices

Go to bed the same time every night. Control your environment by minimizing light, noise and maximizing comfort. Do not have any caffeine containing food or drinks within several hours of your bedtime. Soothing music that lulls you to sleep and turns off automatically may help. Other strategies include relaxation exercises, meditation or restorative yoga just before getting into bed. A glass of red wine may help you relax but excessive alcohol will disrupt sleep.

woman doing yoga on a mat in grass

Try restorative yoga

Paula R. Seffens, Ph.D,
RYT ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist

Effectiveness of the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) in Predicting Falls of Patients 65 Years and Older Following a Hospital Stay

This study is analyzing the usefulness of the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), a functional test that looks at balance, leg strength, and gait confidence, on predicting falls of older adults after a discharge from the hospital. During this study, the test is being performed on older adults while they are hospitalized. Then they will be contacted to assess if they have had a fall after their discharge from the hospital. We want to find out if the SPPB is able to predict fall risk of the older adult after hospital discharge.

Rachael Walton-Mouw, PT, DPT, GCS
Physical Therapy Faculty, UNG

Professional Help-Seeking Behavior for Late-Life Depression

My research/dissertation is focused on the cultural variations in professional help-seeking behaviors for late-life depression.

Deidre Harp, MSN, RN
Nursing Faculty, UNG
Nursing Ph.D. Student, AU

Naming the Internet of Things Appliance: Aging Related Differences in Natural Language

Presented at the annual Association of Gerontology in Higher Education Conference, Atlanta, GA. 
Robertson, C. L., Neese, S., and Dough, K. (2018)

Dr. Chuck Robertson
Psychological Sciences faculty

The Relationship Between Minority Stress and Functional Limitations Between Gay and Lesbian Adults 50 Years and Older

Presented at the annual Association of Gerontology in Higher Education Conference, Atlanta, GA. (2018)

Jeffrey Lentz, M.S.
Human Services & Sociology faculty

Exploring a University-Area Agency on Aging Partnership for Gerontological Workforce Development

Presented at the annual Association of Gerontology in Higher Education Conference, Atlanta, GA.(2018)

Pamela Elfenbein, Ph.D., MSW, HS-BCP
Human Services and Sociology faculty
Director, UNG Academic Gerontology Programs
Fellow – Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education

Effects of Healthy Aging on Performance Stability of Interpersonal Tasks


People frequently coordinate their motor behavior in daily life, and stability of this joint motor performance is crucial for successful implementation of many tasks (e.g., passing a glass of water, care-giver interactions with patients, etc.). When a person executes a task alone, the central nervous system (CNS) coordinates redundant sets of elements into so called synergies to stabilize task performance. However, in two-person tasks, each person must coordinate his or her individual actions with the other to achieve a common mechanical outcome. An individual cannot perfectly predict the changes in mechanical variables that his or her partner will produce, since their nervous systems can only interact via sensory feedback. Therefore, the stable performance of two-person tasks is challenging and rely mostly on sensory information.

Many physiological changes that occur with advanced age affect neuromuscular system and sensory processing. These include reduction of muscle mass, slowing down of muscle contractions, impairment of tactile sensitivity, and neuronal loss in a number of structures within the central nervous system (CNS) leading to plastic changes within the CNS. These changes contribute to previously reported sub-optimal control of manual tasks performed alone by older adults. It is unclear, however, if the aging-related neuromuscular changes affect the coordination between two CNSs to stabilize performance in tasks performed by two persons. 

Project Objectives:

The proposed project aims to investigate the effects of healthy aging in tasks executed by two persons and understanding the strategies older adults use to maintain the stability of shared motor task using an interdisciplinary approach. More specifically, this project will focus on exploring performance stabilizing synergies organized between geriatric population and their healthy counterparts.

This project is partially supported by 2017 UNG Presidential Award.

Stanislaw Solnik, Ph.D., MSPT
Physical Therapy Faculty and Director of Research, UNG

Ethnocultural Narratives From Elders

Since 2007, at the Appalachian Studies Center, the students and volunteers, led by Rosann Kent, have been gathering ethnocultural memories from elders about heirloom seeds through a process known as memory banking. This type of targeted life review was the topic of Rosann’s thesis in applied storytelling from East Tennessee State University.

Rosann Kent
Appalachian Studies Center faculty

Beyond Assessment: Conducting Theoretically-Grounded Research on Service Learning in Gerontology Courses.

Gerontology and Geriatrics Education, 37(1), 12-28. Kruger, T. & Pearl, A.

Dr. Andrew Pearl
Director of Academic Engagement
College of Education faculty

Elder-Caregiver Wellness Enhancement Using Avatars and Exergames

Presented at the Georgia Gerontology Conference, April 12-14, 2018.

Prior research has shown that even short-term yoga-based lifestyle interventions were efficacious in weight loss, inflammation and stress and positively influenced cardiovascular risk factors. Our plans are to deliver yoga therapy to elderly patients and caregivers, assess the participants during exergame play, and provide the physician with reports to foster the flow of health information between patient, caregiver, and physician.

Paula Seffens, Ph.D.
Jacob Malimban
S. Quincy Harris
William Seffens

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