How sleep keeps you young (or at least feeling young)

Many people are concerned with how to stop aging, which is extremely easy if you are a vampire, Norse god, or superhero.

If you’re a human like us though, it might be a little more difficult. A more achievable goal is successful aging, which refers to maintaining one’s health via a combination of healthy lifestyle behaviors such as healthy eating, exercising, and making sure that one is sleeping enough as we inevitably get older.

Successful aging can delay or even avoid (temporarily) the unwanted effects of aging, such as cognitive decline, wrinkles, and so on. The good news is that sleep might just be the most effective way to successfully and stave off many of the negative effects associated with the aging process.  

What is aging?

Many people are familiar with the concept of aging, but do not have a clear idea of what is happening behind the scenes so to speak.  We’re all pretty much on board with the idea that aging refers to the process of becoming older. According to the National Institute on Aging, aging refers to the way we individually experience “changes in dynamic biological, physiological, environmental, psychological, behavioral, and social processes.”[1]  These changes are a natural part of life.

You may wonder what causes aging and how to stop aging.  In reality, aging is an inevitable part process that cannot be reversed or halted.  However, you can take steps to slow it down. Good-quality sleep is one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal to delay aging and enjoy better health as you age.

What is successful aging?

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) is part of the National Institutes of Health that is concerned with research regarding aging. They have sought to define and understand the dynamics of the aging process. According to studies conducted at the NIA, there is no single ‘key’ that explains the aging process. However, the rate of aging can be slowed down.  

The slowing of aging has a number of implications, including slowing the appearance of aging and reducing the burden of many diseases, increasing the portion of life one spends in good health.[1]  Successful aging involves certain behaviors such as exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleep hygiene, to help improve the amount of time spent in good health over the course of one’s life.

Aging and sleep

Beauty sleep isn’t just a marketing trope, the links between aging, sleep, and skin health is increasingly evident as we age. One aspect of aging is its effects on the skin. Sleep and aging are interrelated — in fact, sleeping seven to nine hours a night might be the best form of skincare, as it can help slow down signs of aging in your skin.[2]

Sleep is a powerful tool in the anti-aging arsenal, because it boosts skin health to combat effects of aging. Skin creates new collagen when you sleep, which helps make skin appear more plump and elastic, and therefore less likely to wrinkle. Sleep also promotes blood flow to the skin, so getting enough sleep is a great way to ensure you have a healthy glow. Sleep also reduces puffiness and dark circles under the eyes [3].

Scientific studies have backed these claims. A study performed at Case Western Reserve University Medical Center examined the effects of poor sleep quality on human skin function and visible signs of aging.  The researchers found that people who successfully slept between seven to nine hours a night experienced significantly less skin aging.

On the other hand, poor sleepers, who slept less than five hours a night, showed increased signs of skin aging, as well as diminished skin barrier function, and lower satisfaction with their appearance.[4]

Younger people can also reap the benefits of sleep on skin health.  A study at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute showed that sleep-deprived people who had not slept for over 24 hours could readily be identified by having dark circles under the eyes, more wrinkles and fine lines, pale skin, and redder eyes. The study also concluded that, because facial cues are important for humans, that cues signifying sleep deprivation and fatigue may also have social consequences in the everyday lives of sleep deprived individuals.[5]

Indeed, you are likely familiar with the idea of “beauty sleep.” As we have discussed, sleep prevents wrinkles, reduces dark circles under the eyes, lessens puffiness under the eyes, and is vital for healthy skin overall.  

However, the benefits of a good night’s sleep are beyond skin deep. Sleep also improves organ health, enables the body to recuperate and repair its cells and tissues each night, keeps the mind healthy and active. Many of these benefits are reaped in deep sleep, a time when we secrete growth hormone, a great healer of the body. These benefits help combat the multifactorial effects of aging on the human body.  

How to Embrace sleeping for successful aging

Instead of focusing on how to stop aging, which is impossible unless you are Johnny Depp, people ages 40 and up might be better served focusing on how to slow down aging or, put another way, how to age successfully. As such, think of shut-eye as a not-so-secret weapon for  staving off the effects of aging.  

Sleep keeps the body and mind healthy and active. It improves skin health, organ health, and enables the body to recuperate from the stressors it encounters daily. While the amount of sleep we need and the difficulty we have in getting it might change throughout our lives, the truth is that sleep is equally important at every stage throughout the course of life.

Here are some tips to help embrace an effective sleep plan for healthy aging:

Don’t hesitate to get enough sleep at any age.  

The truth is that the sleep hygiene maintained in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood are just as important for healthy aging as sleep obtained in your 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond.  Sleep’s benefits for brain health are fundamental as they help the brain to eliminate toxins that accumulate during the day and that can damage the aging brain.  

Sleep also promotes healthy memory function, which is important whether you’re eight or 80 years old. Finally, obtaining good quality sleep in young adulthood and middle age can decrease your risk of depression, fewer signs of aging in your skin — both of which help you look and feel better.[6]

Keep in mind that sleep architecture changes as you age.  

Sleep architecture refers to the structure of our sleeping patterns. Older adults tend to spend more time in light sleep, and report a longer increase in sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), as well as decreased time spent in REM sleep. Older adults also report waking up more during the course of a typical night of sleep [7].  

While the exact reasons that sleep architecture changes with age are not well-understood, older adults who experience problems sleeping may want to consider consulting with a sleep specialist to improve the quality and quantity of sleep they obtain each night.

Exercise and eat healthily to avoid sleep disorders and promote overall health in old age. 

Snoring is the main cause of sleep disruption for about 90 million Americans, with over 35 million Americans snoring on a regular basis. Snoring is exacerbated by being overweight, and loud snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, a dangerous sleep disorder. In sleep apnea, sleepers stop breathing for as long as 60 seconds, several times a night [7].  

Eating healthfully, and exercising regularly, can help sleepers stay at a healthy weight and avoid sleep apnea and loud snoring. Remember to exercise earlier in the day, as heavy exercise immediately before sleeping can actually keep you awake because it boosts your heart rate and increases the stress hormone cortisol. Vigorous exercise has also been associated with better sleep quality at night, including better deep sleep, provided that it does not occur within two hours before sleep.[8] Learn more here.

Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, and successful aging — whether in the skin or other organs. While the exact amount of sleep differs from person to person, seven to nine hours of quality zzz’s are recommended by sleep experts for adults to achieve optimal brain and body health.

Glossary

Aging: A natural part of life, aging refers to the process of becoming older.  It is associated with changes in dynamic biological, physiological, environmental, psychological, behavioral, and social processes.

Successful aging: The pursuit of certain behaviors such as exercise, improvements to diet, and good sleep hygiene, to help improve the amount of time spent in good health over the course of one’s life and avoid or slow the negative effects of aging.

Sleep architecture: The overall structure of our sleeping patterns, which changes as we age. 

Sleep latency: The time it takes to fall asleep.

References

  1. “Understanding the Dynamics of the Aging Process.” National Institute on Aging.  Available at https://www.nia.nih.gov/about/aging-well-21st-century-strategic-directions-research-aging/understanding-dynamics-aging.
  2. “How Sleep Improves Your Skin.”  Sleep.org. Available at https://www.sleep.org/articles/how-sleep-improves-your-skin/.
  3. Jacob, S. “The Truth About Beauty Sleep.” WebMD.  Available at https://www.webmd.com/beauty/features/beauty-sleep#1.
  4. Ovetakin-White, P, et al.  2015. “Does poor sleep quality affect skin ageing?” Clin Exp Dermatol, 40(1): 17-22. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25266053.
  5. Sundelin, T, et al. 2013.  “Cues of fatigue: effects of sleep deprivation on facial appearance.” Sleep, 36(9): 1355-60.  Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23997369.  
  6. “Celebrate World Sleep Day on March 15: Healthy Sleep, Healthy Aging.”  2019. Sleep Review. Available at http://www.sleepreviewmag.com/2019/01/world-sleep-day-healthy-sleep-healthy-aging/.
  7. “Aging and Sleep.”  National Sleep Foundation.  Available at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/aging-and-sleep.
  8. “How does exercise help those with chronic insomnia?” National Sleep Foundation.  Available at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-does-exercise-help-those-chronic-insomnia.
  9. Day D, et al.  2018. “Assessing the Potential Role for Topical Melatonin in an Antiaging Skin Regimen.” J Drugs Dermatol, 17(9):966-969. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/30235383/.