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Healthy Living

Sleep Loss May be Aging You Prematurely



Is bedtime your personal nightmare? Do you sneak glances at the clock when that “time” approaches and feel your mood deflate? Although your body is exhausted, you just lie there in bed, staring at every familiar freckle on the ceiling.

Every neighborhood sound and moan and groan of normal house settling feels like thunder in your ears. Your mind keeps racing, or your legs get restless. You might be too hot or too cold, toss and turn desperate for that elusive comfort. Or you wake up in the middle of the night, perhaps for a bathroom break, and can’t fall back to sleep. Well, you’re not alone.

Sleep Loss Ages Your Brain

According to a 2018 review in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, about 50% of the 205 million people over age 60 complain about difficulty falling or staying asleep.1 Sleep loss leaves you feeling grumpy, causes brain fog or lack of focus, memory hiccups, and can make you depressed. Your coordination is affected, making you vulnerable to more falls and accidents. And it accelerates premature aging.

You see, it’s during sleep that your body detoxes, removing cellular waste from your brain and other systems. Without this removal of built-up toxins, your systems “clog up,” and efficiency drops. This “gunk” can obstruct message signaling in your brain. If sleep loss continues and becomes chronic, it can lead to haywire beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles that cause Alzheimer’s disease.2

Sleep Loss Ages Your Body

The “waste gunk” triggers widespread inflammation because your body identifies it as harmful foreign invaders. And that on-going inflammation is a beeline to disease. But that’s not all. It’s during sleep that your body switches into repair and regenerate mode, and blood flow increases to your skin. That’s when wound healing and new cells are created to replace old, failing tissue. It repairs DNA from UV damage, reducing age spots and wrinkles.3 It also helps muscles recover from daily use.

Without at least 7-8 hours of deep restoring sleep, your body ages faster. It can’t rebuild fresh collagen, so your skin thins, pales, gets dull, more wrinkles form, and your skin sags. Your eyelids droop, swell, and dark undereye circles appear. A 2017 study found that just two days of sleep loss reduced the perceived attractiveness, health, and trustworthiness of the participants.4

Sleep Loss Leads to Disease

But the effects of sleep loss aren’t just skin deep. The inflammation could affect your mobility by attacking your joints, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. Sleep deprivation alters the liver’s metabolism. Studies show losing just 6 hours of sleep reduces the liver’s ability to produce glucose and process insulin. It increases your risk for metabolic diseases, fatty liver, and diabetes.5 It could also weaken your immunity, leaving you vulnerable to colds, the flu, and other viruses.6

It increases your risk for high blood pressure. And it can alter the balance of hormones that tell your body you’ve eaten enough food, so you tend to gain extra inches and pounds. It can tank your sex drive for both men and women. A review of 16 studies in 2010 that followed 1,382,999 adults for 4-25 years revealed that too little sleep increases your risk for early death.7

Plan of Action for Deep, Blissful Sleep

Just because you’re getting older, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to sleep as much. Actually, the opposite is true. As you age, you need your sleep more than when you were a teenager. Taking extra steps to create a healthier sleep environment includes a routine that will help balance your broken sleep clock.

  1. Avoid napping during the day. Your circadian rhythm was designed to keep you awake during daylight and release Melatonin at night to help you shut down. Napping is like throwing a wrench into your sleep clock machinery.
  2. Avoid caffeine past noon. Caffeine stays in your system for a long time. One cup of coffee has about 40mg of caffeine, and after about 5 hours, you still have half that amount in your system.8 If you must drink coffee, choose decaffeinated or chicory.
  3. Stick to a schedule. Going to bed and waking at the same times each day helps establish a regular rhythm to your sleep clock.
  4. Stop eating at least 3 hours before you lie down. Digestion prevents restful sleep. Your body can digest food, or it can enjoy a deep sleep and repair and regenerate. It can’t do both at the same time.
  5. Avoid exercising in the evening. Exercise is critical for good health, but it energizes the body when you want it to slow down.
  6. Some medications and supplements may interfere with sleep. High doses of Vitamin D can cause insomnia. Talk to your pharmacist or health food store expert for more information. Changing when you take your meds might help.
  7. Reduce or avoid alcohol intake. A review of 27 studies revealed that alcohol disrupts deep quality sleep, leaving you with the same negative effects of regular sleep loss.9
  8. Shut down electronic devices about 2 hours before bedtime. High-energy blue light from cell phones, e-readers, smart TVs, and computers prevents the release of the sleep hormone Melatonin for at least 2 hours. Melatonin puts your body in a relaxed state so you can fall asleep.
  9. Use those 2 hours to relax. You can read a “paper” book, listen to soothing music, or soak in a hot bath. Doctors recommend meditation, yoga, or Progressive Muscle Relaxation Techniques to release stress and tension from your day and body.10 11
  10. Create the right environment. Remove any distractions and electronics from your bedroom – it should be a place for relaxation and sleep only. Ensure your room is inviting and cool to about 65 degrees.12 Dim your bedroom lights during your relaxation time. Use black-out curtains to make sure your room is dark before closing your eyes, as light prevents the release of Melatonin.
  11. Invest in a comfy bed, blankets, sheets, and pillow. Use soothing colors that calm the mind and nervous system. Pastels in blue, yellow, green, silver, orange, pink, and white have been shown to reduce stress. The worst colors include bright purple, dark gray, brown, and red.13
  12. Natural supplements to help you relax. For centuries, people have used Lemon Balm, Valarian, American Skullcap, German Chamomile, Passionflower, or Magnolia bark to help them sleep.14 A cup of Chamomile tea is commonly considered a mild tranquilizer and sleep inducer.15 Some supplements have a combination of these ingredients, which are also available as herbal teas.

These tips are sure to help you sink into a blissful, restoring slumber and awake refreshed and ready for your day ahead. You’ll feel revitalized and re-energized like you’ve turned back the clock a decade or two! However, if these tips fail, there might be something else going on. Talk to your doctor and seek professional advice.

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