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Editor’s note: This is the second installment of the series The Longevity Project, a collaboration between The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

Sleep is more than just a period of rest; it’s a complex process that impacts our overall health. Understanding the stages of sleep and the factors that affect sleep quality is essential for optimal well-being, especially at high altitudes, according to Glenwood Springs Dr. Greg Feinsinger and Valley View Sleep Medicine physician Dr. Chandra Matadeen-Ali.

“The way altitude affects sleep is that a lot of people who live over 3,000 feet have central sleep apnea,” Feinsinger said. “As people age, it’s more likely to happen where the brain senses there’s not enough oxygen and tells you not to sleep. It’s important to make sure you are doing everything you can to ensure quality sleep, especially living in the mountains.”



Unlike the more commonly known obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea is a condition influenced by the brain’s response to oxygen levels, particularly at night. This condition can lead to significant cardiovascular issues due to disrupted sleep patterns, according to him.

“People should be aware of the symptoms of sleep apnea, which classic ones are what we call non-restorative sleep,” he said. Recognizing these symptoms is crucial for addressing sleep apnea early on to prevent accidents and health decline.



This spring’s Longevity series is sponsored by

Feinsinger also warned against the use of alcohol and certain medications before bedtime. Such substances can worsen sleep apnea by depressing respiration, leading to more fragmented sleep.

To improve sleep quality, he advises “going to bed earlier than a lot of people do.”

Ensuring seven to eight hours of sleep is vital, as both too little and too much sleep can have adverse health effects. A quiet, dark, and cool bedroom environment free from electronic distractions also aids in achieving restful sleep.

“Exercise earlier in the day is important,” he said, noting that evening exercise can interfere with sleep quality. He also mentioned that individuals with atrial fibrillation or other cardiac arrhythmias should be evaluated for sleep apnea, highlighting the connection between sleep disorders and heart health.

According to Ali, most adults should try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep. However, individual needs can vary, with some functioning well on fewer hours and others requiring more.

She explained the stages of sleep, dividing them into REM and non-REM categories. Non-REM sleep, which makes up 80% of sleep, includes light and deep stages, while REM sleep accounts for the remaining 20%. Understanding these stages is crucial for diagnosing and treating sleep disorders.

“With high altitude, you will suffer as you ascend,” she said, noting the challenges of sleep-related breathing disorders at higher elevations. “Living in high elevations can actually lead to sleep related breathing disorders, so it is important to be aware and visit a doctor if you are having trouble sleeping.”

For general sleep improvement, she recommends practicing good sleep hygiene, which includes establishing a routine that avoids caffeine, alcohol, and stimulating activities before bedtime. Keeping the bedroom dark and at an ideal temperature as well as reserving the bed for sleep and sexual activity only can significantly enhance sleep quality.

“If you are doing all of these and you’re still having difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up in the morning feeling unrested or nonrefreshed, then you have to think about sleep disorder,” she said. In such cases, consulting a sleep physician for evaluation and possible sleep testing is advised.

For more information regarding sleep and sleep medicine, visit vvh.org.

Do you think you may suffer from Sleep Issues and live in Florida, California or New York?

If so, please consider scheduling a proper virtual online Sleep Disorder and Anxiety diagnosis with one of our physicians. Although we have an online ADHD and Anxiety diagnosis tool, a proper diagnosis from a Board-Certified Medical Doctor will help you know for sure. If appropriate, a customized treatment program will be recommended at the conclusion of that initial visit.

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