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August 8, 2018

Does a lack of sleep make you age quicker?

The consequences of poor sleep quality are as numerous as they are serious. A lack of deep, restful sleep, or simply not enough hours of quality sleep, can affect a person’s health in a number of ways. You may have heard about how sleep disorders, interrupted sleep, and sleep deprivation contribute to mood swings, heightened blood pressure, and problematic respiratory functions. But did you know that a lack of sleep can also accelerate the aging process?

Consistent nights of healthy sleep are very important. A lot happens during this vital time of growth and renewal:

  • Thanks to growth hormone, your body’s cells are repaired
  • Your brain has a chance to remove waste products that accumulate during the day
  • Healthy new cells appear in your tissues and organs
  • Your brain also gets a chance to rest while still maintaining key functions

A night of deep sleep is wonderfully restorative for your body and brain. If you’re looking to take charge of your health in terms of short-term gains and long-term benefits, sleep quality can’t be ignored. And to both look and feel younger, learning to harness the power of sleep can be a key to your success.

The aging process

A recent study suggests that even one night of sleep deprivation causes cells to age faster than usual in older adults. Patients in this study were purposefully kept awake for one night or repeatedly woken up throughout the night, limiting their amount of actual sleep to about 4 hours total. The results of the study showed that sleeping for less than the recommended amount of time promoted biological aging in older adults.

The lack of quality, restorative sleep had other consequences, too. Sleep deprivation in this study also created an environment for a greater risk for disease.

In addition to inviting unwanted disease into your body, you could also be setting yourself up for disaster by unintentionally sabotaging your own health. When you’re in the deeper phases of sleep, chemicals like insulin and glucose are regulated within your body. When you don’t give yourself the opportunity to have a long night’s sleep and access those deep phases, your body is unable to process and distribute what it needs to. As a result, cells, organs, and entire systems miss out on replenishment, renewal, and redistribution.

Sleep and brain structure

According to a new brain imaging study performed on people age 55 and older, structural changes commonly related to aging happen faster in those who have less than ideal sleep health.

Generally speaking, structural changes in the brain and some aspects of memory function and storage are fairly normal for this age demographic, as are some sleep disorders. However, in this particular study, those changes in brain structure accelerated at a higher rate for every hour of sleep that was lost each night.

Understanding human brain functions during sleep is a subject that is still not fully understood. One theory suggests that during sleep, waste product is removed from the brain, and if we do not move into deep enough sleep phases, this removal does not happen. The lingering presence of toxic products in the brain can lead to brain degeneration and the development of cognitive issues later on down the road.

In your own skin

When it comes to outward physical appearances, drinking water, wearing sunscreen, and getting a facial every now and then can only take you so far. Aside from the occasional under-eye circles and overall feelings of sluggishness, a recent study also found that the skin’s ability to perform at its best was undermined when participants reported poor quality sleep or an insufficient amount of sleep. It is also fascinating to consider that the skin itself follows a circadian pattern, varying in thickness and other characteristics in response to the patterns of light and darkness.

Those conducting the mentioned study found that the subjects who maintained a higher quality of sleep recovered more efficiently from skin stressors. These stressors included inflammation and redness, moisture loss, elasticity loss, and the ability to repair minor damage, like that may incur from a sunburn.

A lack of quality sleep also weakened the skin’s ability to repair itself at night, seeing that cell renewal occurs during phases of deep sleep. These stressors, along with your skin’s inability to recover from them as well as it could, can all cause you to look older than you really are. As it turns out, getting behind on your sleep can catch up with you in more ways than one.

Feel younger, longer

The right amount of sleep is more than just skin deep. Consistently getting the recommended number of hours of quality sleep can help you look and feel younger, as well as provide your brain with the opportunity to renew itself and perform at its best.

Brandon R. Peters, M.D., is board-certified in both neurology and sleep medicine and currently practices at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. He is also a Clinical Affiliate at Stanford University's School of Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. His latest book, Insomnia Solved, is available on Amazon.