The connection between aging and sleep is deep. Find out how sleep problems can lead to biological aging.
In this article:
- Sleep Among Older Adults
- What Does the Sleep Study Say?
- The Sign of Senescence and Inflammation
- Sleep Disruption, Dementia, and Depression
- Aging and Sleep and Skin
- How to Improve Sleep in 6 Ways
Aging and Sleep: How Lack of Sleep Promotes Dementia and Other Chronic Illnesses
Sleep Among Older Adults
Aging and sleep go hand in hand, and its effects extend beyond the appearance of dark circles around the eyes. Science already showed the link of lack of sleep to:
- Heart disease
- Neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease or dementia
- Obstructive sleep apnea, where people experience pauses of breathing while asleep
- Restless leg syndrome, the uncontrollable urge to move one’s leg
- Headaches and migraines
The impact of sleep problems is stronger among older adults. These people are prone to sleep disturbances like insomnia, which is trouble falling asleep or keeping themselves asleep.
It’s not unusual for scientists to relate aging and sleep—that is, poor sleep can mean two things. It may be a sign of illness, or it is a trigger to senescence or biological aging.
To find out, PRB discusses sleep and aging in issue 38 of Today’s Research on Aging.
What Does the Sleep Study Say?
The article was more of a review of the various types of research covering aging and sleep. They found these studies are unanimous in saying that sleeping less can increase the risk of mortality.
They didn’t seem to agree on the effects of sleeping more. Usually, studies that involved self-reported data revealed that sleeping for nine hours could still increase the odds of death.
Another sleep study took a different approach. The researchers from the University of Chicago decided to use a process called actigraphy.
The recruits, who were older people, had to wear a wristband for many nights to monitor their sleep patterns. They discovered that sleeping less than six hours a night may result in fair or poor health.
They, however, determined that falling asleep for nine hours or more didn’t harm the body.
The Sign of Senescence and Inflammation
Perhaps one of the most important studies on sleeping and aging was that of the University of California-Los Angeles.
They didn’t use wristbands but instead drew blood samples from the older participants. This was following a night of forced sleep deprivation.
What does lack of sleep cause? Two things:
Based on the results, even a single night of poor sleep can change your body down to the cellular level. The researchers detected the deterioration of the growth and division cycle of the cells.
The cells go through many phases, and at some point, they eventually die. They call this process apoptosis.
Senescence, in a way, is helpful to prevent the spread of “toxic cells” such as those of cancer. Unfortunately, it can trigger the shortening of telomeres, which serve as “caps” of the chromosomes.
As they shorten, the DNA experiences damage.
As the study said, sleep problems may activate the molecular pathways that trigger biological aging.
Poor sleep habits may also increase the risk of chronic inflammation. Interestingly, these sleeping habits include sleeping for long hours.
Sleep Disruption, Dementia, and Depression
Other studies mentioned in the article establish a link between depression and sleep, as well as sleep disturbances and dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
One of these types of research spanned for over 25 years. It allowed scientists to carefully track the sleeping habits of the participants and the lack-of-sleep effects.
University of Michigan researchers revealed that older adults with heart problems had an increased risk of depressive symptoms.
Meanwhile, a European study cited how severe sleep disruption can be an early indication of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. This is even before the patient shows signs of memory loss.
The research involved at least 28,000 older adults from 12 European countries. These individuals were all healthy or not showing signs of dementia at the beginning.
The team then assessed the sleep quality of the participants using a disturbance index. It accounted for sleep problems, the use of sleeping pills, and changes in sleep patterns.
The results suggested that:
- Each of these sleep measures was associated with higher odds of Alzheimer’s disease or even death within four years.
- The higher the sleep disturbance index score, the greater the risk is.
University of California-Berkeley researchers, meanwhile, believed sleep disturbance experienced by people with Alzheimer’s disease is different from healthy individuals. For example, they are susceptible to decreased non-REM sleep.
What is REM sleep? REM stands for rapid eye movement. It indicates brain activity while sleeping.
Indeed, many of those with dementia may develop a sleep disorder. They tend to have a problematic sleep-wake cycle, and often, it’s a consequence of the illness.
The California study, however, pointed out changes in the brain as a possible cause. Short sleepers or those whose good night’s sleep lasts less than six hours had more evidence of artery hardening in the brain.
Aging and Sleep and Skin
Biological aging can be inside out, and the skin can reveal it. Think about the fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin.
It also implies that fewer hours of sleep manifest on the skin over time. This is what The Estee Lauder Companies wanted to say.
For the research, the team worked with 60 pre-menopausal women. Their ages ranged from 30 to 49.
About 50% of these women also had sleeping problems. They went through a series of evaluations and challenges such as UV light exposure.
The results suggested that those who had enough hours of sleep recovered faster from UV light exposure. They also managed environmental toxins better.
Meanwhile, the study associated poor sleep with signs of skin aging. Besides wrinkles, women may also develop hyperpigmentation or decreased skin elasticity.
The National Sleep Foundation may have an explanation for it. Sleep helps stimulate the production of growth hormones.
These hormones are necessary to create collagen. This structural protein makes up most of the skin.
The researchers also linked not getting enough quality sleep to higher risks of obesity.
Why does this happen? It could be because sleep raised inflammatory markers. Other kinds of research associated obesity with chronic inflammation.
The effects of obesity, meanwhile, can also appear on the skin. Hormone imbalances may result in the darkening of the folds, for example.
How to Improve Sleep in 6 Ways
Based on these studies, sleep medicine is more complex than previously thought. Disturbances in the sleep cycle, circadian rhythm, or the body’s internal clock can happen for a lot of reasons:
- Changes in the brain volume, which can indicate early signs of dementia
- Hormone changes
- Chronological aging
- Existing illness
It doesn’t mean you cannot do something to improve sleep. Here are some of the best recommendations for sleep hygiene:
- Avoid using mobile devices 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. This helps calm your mind and prepares your body to fall asleep.
- Seek medical help if you experience frequent daytime sleepiness. It may indicate a sleeping disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.
- Get your hormone levels checked. LIV Health can assist you with that, as well as provide the best advice to balance them.
- Reduce the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and weight gain.
- Exercise to decrease the risks of obesity and other chronic diseases.
- Consider natural sleep aids like lavender tea or even meditation.
Can lack of sleep make you sick? The answer is yes.
The studies above show how deep the association between aging and sleep is. It may be a powerful indicator of several conditions such as dementia.
Fortunately, you have multiple ways to improve deep sleep, reduce inflammation, and age gracefully.
How do you guarantee a good sleep? Share your tips in the comments section below!