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    Does Lack of Sleep Age You?

      |  Sep 06, 2023

    The term “sleep deprivation” might sound extreme — like you’re not sleeping for days on end — but sleep deprivation can occur even when you’re simply experiencing poor sleep, or not enough sleep, at night. In fact, 40 to 50 million people in the United States have some form of sleep disorder, and 1 in 3 American adults reported not getting enough sleep or rest each day.

    There are many reasons why someone would have trouble falling asleep, from blue light exposure to mental health issues, and even side effects of aging, like night sweats. And consistently poor sleep can lead to compounding issues as we age.

    What happens when we sleep?

    Think of how great you feel after a good night’s sleep. You feel rested and ready to take on the day. You might find yourself more motivated to keep healthy habits, and you have the energy to carry you through your day with consistent levels of energy. Now think of when you don’t get enough sleep — not only do you feel tired, but your body might feel worn down, and you might find it harder to eat right, exercise, or stay focused at work. That’s because sleep is essential to the healthy functioning of our bodies. 

    Sleep is key to regulating our central nervous system. When we sleep, our brain forms neural pathways that help us remember new information and help with overall cognitive function. 

    Your immune system’s ability to fight bacteria and viruses is also impacted. When you sleep, your body produces antibodies and cytokines, infection-fighting substances that are necessary for a healthy immune system.

    Sleep also helps balance the hormones that impact our digestive system: leptin and ghrelin. Lepin helps send signals to the brain that we’re full, while ghrelin is an appetite stimulant. The balance of these hormones stops us from overeating.

    What happens when we don’t sleep?

    When we don’t sleep, the processes that regulate our body’s nervous, immune, and digestive systems are disrupted, and can lead to a variety of health issues.

    People experiencing sleep deprivation experience declined cognitive function, like memory issues, and trouble concentrating and thinking. Signals between the brain and the body might also be delayed, decreasing your coordination and increasing your risks for accidents.

    When the immune system doesn’t produce enough antibodies and cytokines, you could find yourself becoming sick more often with the cold, flu, or even COVID-19, and taking longer to recover. These infections can lead to more serious diseases like pneumonia.

    Disruptions in the digestive system can lead to overeating, while a lack of sleep can make you too tired to exercise the next day. These factors combined can lead to obesity and a higher risk of heart disease. Sleep deprivation also lowers the body’s ability to produce insulin, which helps balance glucose levels after a meal. Additionally, poor sleep can reduce your body’s tolerance for glucose, increasing your risk of diabetes.

    How to improve sleep quality

    In the same way that poor sleep can cause numerous impacts to the healthy functioning of your body, it can also be caused by a wide variety of factors. If you’re looking to improve the quality of your sleep, there are a few steps you can take.

    Improve your sleep hygiene

    The first step to improving your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep is making sure you’re maintaining good habits around bedtime. Try to stay off electronics 2 - 3 hours before you go to sleep, as blue light can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm. In fact, try to keep screens out of the bedroom entirely. Try charging your phone overnight in another room, and working from your couch instead of your bed if you need to send a late night email. Caffeine, large meals, and alcohol should also be avoided before bedtime.

    Another good facet of sleep hygiene is your bedroom itself — ideally it should be dark, quiet, and at a good temperature. Black out curtains can help block early morning sunlight, while a white noise machine can remove distracting noises from the surrounding environment, especially if you live in an apartment.

    The final step of good sleep hygiene actually happens during the day: exercise. Exercising can help you fall asleep more easily at night, along with a myriad of other health benefits. 

    Supplements for better sleep

    If you’re still having trouble sleeping, over the counter supplements can help. Melatonin, the chemical your brain secretes to signal it’s time to sleep, is widely available in supplement form. Melatonin can be taken right before bed on a daily basis or whenever you need it. 

    Magnesium has also been shown to improve sleep quality. While some people choose to take magnesium before bed, certain forms of magnesium like Magnesium L-Threonate are taken twice a day, and can help improve both sleep and brain function.

    Discover what’s causing poor sleep

    Maybe you’ve tried everything to help with poor sleep: your cabinet is overflowing with melatonin supplements, you haven’t looked at your phone past 7 pm in months, and you’ve cut out caffeine completely. If you’re still having trouble falling asleep, Modern Age’s Aging Wellness Assessment can help. 

    This comprehensive look at your overall health is designed to reveal the underlying causes of aging related symptoms, including poor sleep. You’ll work 1:1 with a licensed clinician to assess 55 key biomarkers, along with bone, cognitive, and metabolic health. Based on your results, you’ll get a unique plan designed to help you feel better now and in the long term. Unsure where to start?  Book a free consultation today.