It’s not the sun. It’s not your diet. It’s not even the passage of time that’s aging you. The one factor that ages you most is something you might never venture to guess. It’s sleep, or lack thereof, that’s creeping in and dredging up the physical and mental signs of aging. The good news is that your sleep habits are easier to take control of than the Earth’s revolutions around the sun, so one of the main keys to health and happiness as we age is in our hands.
How We Sleep As We Age
Our sleep cycles can change as we get older, and often not for the better. A study published in Geriatrics titled Sleep In Aging claims that sleep-related complaints like insomnia and wakefulness at night are common and can be caused by normal changes in sleep patterns with age. These disruptive side effects of aging can be even more severe in patients suffering from dementia.
How Lack Of Sleep Affects Our Mind
These sleep disturbances can lead to a sleep deficit, which, according to a study in Psychology & Behavior, could impact the brain’s maintenance of long-term memory storage. Mice deprived of REM sleep displayed a temporary retrograde amnesia when tested 30 minutes or three hours after their REM sleep cycles had been disrupted.
Another study published in Essential Psychopharmacology examined the role sleep deprivation can play in our mental state. Alterations in endocrine and metabolic function associated with sleep deprivation were linked to memory deficits and the advancement of the aging process.
How Lack Of Sleep Affects Our Stress Level
The same Essential Psychopharmacology study links a lack of sleep to increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol regulates stress changes in the body, like blood sugar, blood pressure and the activation of your central nervous system. Kicking cortisol into overdrive can lead to chronic stress. Chronic stress comes with a whole host of negative implications, such as anxiety, heart disease, weight gain and even sleep problems, which only exacerbates the whole situation.
Stress itself has been associated with trouble sleeping, especially if you’re worried about something or in anticipation. Stressing about sleep can cause stress which can make it harder to sleep. It’s a vicious cycle, but stacking up those snoozing hours and being mindful of your sleep habits can help to break it.
How Lack Of Sleep Affects Our Body
Aside from a spike in cortisol, a lack of sleep can cause a tidal wave of other changes in our body, inside and out. Not getting enough Zs can lead to an impairment of carbohydrate tolerance, similar to people with clinically significant impairments to their glucose tolerance. It can throw leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that control hunger and satiety, out of balance, making it more difficult to tell when you’re actually hungry and when to put down the fork.
Moreover, a lack of sleep can show itself on your face as well. In a study tracking the visible signs of sleep deprivation published in Sleep, participants were perceived as having more hanging eyelids, redder and more swollen eyes, darker circles under the eyes, paler skin, more droopy corners of the mouth and more wrinkles and fine lines when they were short on sleep.
Not getting enough sleep can be the #1 thing that ages you, on the inside and outside, but taking control of your sleep habits and making sure to get enough, restful sleep each night can eliminate the effects of sleep deprivation.
Would you like to learn more about how to get more sleep, have less stress and fight off the symptoms of aging? If so, consider signing up for the Women’s Health Conversations 2016 Conference held in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Nov. 4 and 5 and attending the More Sleep and Less Stress! lecture on Friday, Nov. 4. Register today to join the conversation around women’s health and wellness and be educated and inspired by experts in the field.