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Article: Sleep & Aging - Are They Two Sides Of The Same Coin?

Sleep & Aging - Are They Two Sides Of The Same Coin?
Sleep Hygiene

Sleep & Aging - Are They Two Sides Of The Same Coin?

Okay, so lack of sleep makes us cranky and tired, but is there more happening beneath the surface? A recent study showed that a majority of women suffer from some sort of sleep disorder, and most don’t meet the recommended 8 hours of sleep each night.

So what is happening here ?

Unfortunately women have drawn the short straw when it comes to sleep – more women suffer from sleep disorders than men. This is especially true when they pass through their different life stages like pregnancy, perimenopause, menopause etc. During which hormonal imbalances causes sleep disruption and even changes to sleep architecture.

So what exactly is happening to your body during sleep

Your body is actually very active when you are sleeping (Who would have thought!). It goes through a number of actions all with the aim to repair, restore and renew your body!. Just some of the things your body does when you sleep are;

  • Your brain is processing and sorting all the information it stored during the day
  • You create long term memories, as your brain starts filing all the information
  • The cortisol hormone – also known as the stress hormone decreases during sleep
  • Your skin literally rebuilds and repairs itself during sleep 
  • Similarly your muscles are repairing itself and also growing during sleep (Any good PT will tell you sleep is as much, if not more important than exercise & diet)

On the flip side long term poor sleep hygiene has a devastating effect on your health. Not only does it increase tiredness, but long term lack of sleep can also result in a poor memory, accelerated skin aging, decreased productivity levels and play havoc with your body chemistry, causing unwanted weight gain.

Let’s dig into some of these in more detail, as they say the first step towards fixing a problem is understanding it’s impact better.

Your Skin Ages Faster The More Sleep You Miss

Skin and beauty giant Estee Lauder recently launched a study to test the link between lack of sleep and aging skin. The results were astonishing, to say the least. 

The study found that lack of sleep definitively accelerates skin aging. Not getting enough sleep means skin does not recover effectively from daily environmental stress like UV rays, pollution, poor diet, mental stress etc.

The study, headed by Elma Baron, MD, of the University Hospitals Case Medical Centre, concluded that the skin of women who didn't get enough sleep simply wasn't as able to cope with maintaining a suitable barrier to sun damage and pollutant exposure. Sun damage can result in sunspots and discoloured patches of skin, which can instantly age a person and add unwanted years to their overall appearance.

The study also measured skin elasticity of women between ages 30-49 who were getting sufficient sleep, versus those who were not. The results were recorded via the skin aging barometer system of SCINEXA. The study found that out of the sixty women tested, those who were getting enough sleep had a skin score of 2.2, whilst those women who were struggling to obtain the required hours of
sleep a night were much higher, scoring 4.4 instead (with lower scores being better!). Once skin begins to lose elasticity and the ability to bounce back, the prominence of wrinkles on the face can increase, along with fine lines starting to look deeper and more pronounced.

Not only does lack of sleep and aging skin cause a breakdown in the skin's natural exterior lipid barrier and thus allow harmful environmental damage and pollution to speed up aging, but Estee Lauder's research has also shown that sleep and aging skin are also connected on an emotional level for many women too. This means that not only does lack of sleep affect skin, but it also affects how women feel about their skin too, with many women who took part in the study also suffering with lower self esteem and worries associated with their appearance and how attractive they felt.

Lack Of Sleep Leads To Poor Mental Health

Sleep changes with age, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be proactively doing something to try and increase our levels of good quality sleep. Aside from the connection between poor sleep and aging skin, lack of sleep can also result in poor concentration levels, weaker memory and poor mental health in general.

Medical director of the Maimonides Sleep Arts and Sciences institution, Barry Krakow, MD, has extensively researched the link between poor sleep hygiene and long term mental implications. One of the biggest ways sleeplessness affects your concentration levels is by slowing down cognitive nerve communication in the brain. This can make every day tasks feel so much harder and complex, with basic decision making and task performance abilities significantly impaired.

Not only can sleep deprivation result in poor judgement skills and slow down your reaction times, but it can also make it harder for the brain to access our memories. During sleep your body and brain takes time to repair itself, so without this essential internal maintenance time, you could be looking at long term nerve impairment. Without strong nerve connections and communication in the brain, memories can be disrupted and it can be harder to not only remember new information, but to access previous memories as well.

Poor Sleep Could Result in Weight Gain

So we know that as we age, most of us add on the pounds. Now, there are many reasons for this – slowing metabolism, poor diet, lower physical activity etc. But, there is another culprit hiding in plain sight (Okay not much of a suspense here, by now you have obviously figured out the answer is!!)

A study commissioned by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that a key element of the link between poor sleep and weight gain was down to impaired brain choices. It seems that a tired brain is more likely to opt for not only more sugary and fatty snacks, but also increased portion sizes too. Another side effect of a sleepy brain is that impulse control is lowered, making you less likely to say NO to a biscuit or two when the afternoon energy slump hits.

But that, unfortunately, is not it !! If your body is constantly lacking good quality sleep, it may struggle to process insulin correctly. If this happens and your body starts to become too sensitive to insulin, then everything you eat will begin to be stored as fat as your body will have too much trouble processing it into the bloodstream. And it just gets worse, once this sensitivity occurs on a regular basis, you will begin to see your weight steadily creep up, with some women even reaching levels of obesity and diabetes as a result of chronic long term sleep deprivation.

Lack of sleep kills your sex drive!

A recent study published by the Journal of Sexual Medicine followed nearly 4000 men & women in their early to mid 60’s – the study found that poor sleep was associated with arousal and orgasm difficulty for women. Evidence suggests these findings also apply for younger women, including another study also published by the Journal Sexual Medicine, which followed the lives of 171 college student. The study found that just 1 hour of extra sleep increase sexual desire and the chance of having sex with their partners by 14%.

Poor Sleep Could Make You Sicker

Do you experience sniffles or watering of eyes after days of poor sleep? Well, there might actually be more happening beneath the surface. During sleep your body releases proteins called cytokines. These cytokines helps fight infection & inflammation in the body, especially when you are sick. Your body also loses infection fighting anti bodies every time you miss a good night’s sleep.

Sleep deprivation is also an overlooked but significant risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes. The main reason being sleep plays havoc with your hormones. With ongoing sleep issues, your body produces less insulin and more harmful hormones like cortisol, with the net effect being you have too much glucose in your bloodstream!

We have just scratched the surface here, but there you go! This article shows how poor sleep hygiene could have a devastating impact on your body and literally age it faster. Next week, we explore what you can do to improve your sleep hygiene. Our experts will discuss their best tip and practical advice on what steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene without having to rely on addictive and potentially harmful prescription medicines.

(PS – We have been working for the past few months on some exciting new solutions that are designed to help improve your sleep hygiene. While we get ready for launch we are also cooking up some amazing deal for all you lovely readers. So keep an eye out on our website over the next few weeks)


Fascinating article. Thank you….I sure need to reassess my sleeping!

Susan Edwards

I have struggled to sleep for just over a decade now, I do worry about skin ageing as I get extremely anxious when I think how it could effect my skin ,I do take kiwi fruit before going to bed as they say it does aid good sleep unfortunately it does not help me , even though I do take it € I wish I had a solution to get a good nights sleep _ but I cannot seem to could you help me in any way please x

Alison Anhable

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