Me in the Middle of Sleep and Dream Patterns as We Age

Sleep and Dream Patterns as We Age

This was the Spring course I chose out of the course offerings for OLLI Osher Lifesong Learning Institute at the University of Virginia. My being diagnosed with Severe Sleep Apnea OSA has peaked my interest in all things sleep. A very interesting topic!

The course was taught by Dr. Douglas E. DeGood  (UVA Pain Management Center, the Behavioral Medicine Center, and the UVA Sleep Center prior to his retirement in 2014)

“The course will begin with a description of the
biology and psychology of normal sleep and how
sleep and dream patterns change with age. Subsequent
topics include sleep disorders such as sleep apnea,
treatments for sleep disorders including risks associated with sleep medications, and cognitive-behavioral strategies for improving sleep.”

Dr. DeGood gave each of us his CD on Basic Self-Relaxation Exercises ~ BMW RELAX. (The BMW stands for Breathing, Muscle Relaxation and Warming). We learned the importance of deep breathing exercises and how it relates to increasing the oxygen levels in the body and the relaxation of the muscles. Practicing this off and on during the day and then using the technique as you’re falling asleep. I found it interesting that when I used the oximeter to check my oxygen level I could actually see the level rise when I used the deep breathing technique. I could also feel the warming and tingling in my hands and feet as I fell off to sleep.

Breathing Exercise


Two key figures in the history of sleep science of Sleep Apnea were:

Henri Gastaut who described Sleep Apnea as a significant sleep issue in 1965 and

William Dement who established the first dedicated Sleep Disorders Center in 1970

This is an interesting interview: William Dement Interview with Arianna Huffington

How did the focus shift to sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one of the most serious and one of the most prevalent sleep disorders, and it was described for the first time in 1965 in Europe. But it was completely ignored by American pulmonologists. (Dement)

I learned that Arianna Huffington had an interest in Sleep Apnea because she has it and she experienced a very painful wake-up call about the importance of sleep. Here’s a Ted video I found where she emphasizes that:

“We are literally going to sleep our way to the top, literally”


This history of Sleep Science ranges from Hippocrates, Aristotle and Galen in ancient times up to Freud (1900), Berger (1924), Kleitman (1925), Loomis (1937), Dement (1954), Lerner (1958), Halberg (1959), Gestaut (1965) and Dement (1970).

Statistics on Frequency of Sleep Problems: National Sleep Foundation Poll, 2011

  • 54% of adults experienced at least one symptom of insomnia a few nights a week.
  • 33% report having an insomnia symptom almost every night in the past year.
  • 18 million adults estimated to be affected by respiratory sleep apnea, 59% of those who report snoring.
  • 12 million adults estimated to be affected by restless leg syndrome
  • Narcolepsy affects 1 in 2,000 adults.
  • Vague definitions of sleep disorders may lead to overestimation of the problem. Most important question should be: How much does your sleep negatively impact your daily functioning and overall quality of your life?

While the class covered many different aspects of sleep, it was clear that the instructor considered sleep apnea worthy of more attention. Sleep Apnea has been found to be present in all ages and affects the quality of life. Practicing healthy sleep habits can help to buffer the severe affects of undiagnosed Sleep Apnea although more awareness is needed to encourage people to get tested and receive treatment.

Some Practices Conducive to Good Sleep

  • Try to sleep only when you are drowsy. Allow a period of “winding down” for at least 30 minutes prior to trying to sleep.
  • If you are unable to fall asleep or return to sleep after a reasonable length of time, leave your bedroom and engage in quiet activity elsewhere. Return to your bed only when you are sleepy.
  • Maintain a regular bed time, but more importantly a regular arise time, even on days off work and on weekends.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex.
  • Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes or less. Do not try to make up for lost night time sleep during the day.
  • Learn to use physical and mental relaxation techniques to relax your body and distract your mind.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime. Do not smoke during the night.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages within 3 hours of bedtime. Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but can disrupt sleep later in the night.
  • Avoid foods before bedtime that rich fatty or can trigger indigestion or heartburn that can disrupt sleep.
  • Exercise regularly to promote good sleep during the day, but not within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light during the day.
  • Minimize light, noise and extremes in temperature in the bedroom.

Sweet dreams

I enjoyed the course and learned a lot. There wasn’t enough covered on Dream Patterns and what they tell us. I’m hoping there will be a follow-up where this area is covered more fully.


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