How Quality Sleep Contributes to Healthy Aging: Here’s How To Improve Yours
Snuggling into bed at night feels like a warm embrace as you drift off to sleep. Even better, when you wake up in the morning you’re energized and motivated to live your day to the fullest. But there's more to sleep than simply recharging your batteries. Sleep, as emerging research is revealing, could play a vital role in extending our healthspan and, perhaps, our lifespan.
The importance of sleep for our well-being cannot be overstated. As we elucidate the nuances of our body's intricate rhythms and cycles, we begin to understand how sleep might influence how we age, and how, in turn, the aging process affects our sleep patterns.
To better appreciate the relationship between sleep and longevity, we first need to understand the fundamental characteristics of sleep. Sleep is not a monolithic state but a complex, multi-stage process that cycles throughout the night. It includes phases of light sleep, deep sleep (known as slow-wave sleep), and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the last of these being where you dream, even if you don’t remember. Each phase is linked to different physiological processes, with deep and REM sleep being particularly beneficial for physical restoration and memory consolidation, respectively.
Sleep quality often refers to the depth and continuity of sleep, the proportion of different sleep stages, and the synchronization of sleep with our internal body clock or circadian rhythm. As we age, changes in our sleep architecture can lead to a decrease in the amount and quality of deep sleep, a shift in our sleep-wake cycle, and an increase in night-time awakenings.
Unraveling the Sleep-Longevity Link
As the scientific community ventures further into the sleep-longevity Venn diagram, a number of compelling connections are coming to light.
Deep sleep is a time of rest, repair, and regeneration. During this stage, our bodies engage in a flurry of repair work at a cellular level. Broken strands of DNA are repaired, damaged cells are cleared out, and new cells are created to replace old, worn-out ones. This meticulous restoration process is like an overnight maintenance routine that keeps our body running smoothly.
Experts agree that around 20-25% of a healthy adult's sleep should be composed of deep sleep. This equates to approximately 1.5 to 2 hours of deep sleep per night for an individual who sleeps for an average of 8 hours. The bulk of deep sleep typically occurs in the first half of the night, following our body's natural circadian rhythm.
To improve the quality of deep sleep, there are a few things you can do. Regular physical exercise, for example, can significantly enhance the length and quality of deep sleep, as can maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. Additionally, creating a quiet, cool, and dark sleep environment can make it easier for the body to transition into deep sleep. Think of your bedroom like a sleep cave. Furthermore, limiting exposure to electronic screens before bedtime, and curtailing caffeine and alcohol consumption, can greatly improve your deep sleep.
Immune System Regulation
While we snooze, our immune system is hard at work. It's during sleep that our bodies produce and release key immune cells like cytokines, T cells, and interleukins. These tiny warriors help fight off pathogens, manage inflammaging, and orchestrate an immune response to potential threats. Disrupted sleep patterns can result in a weakened immune response, potentially making our bodies more susceptible to infections.
A good night's sleep is essential for maintaining metabolic homeostasis. Our metabolism, which includes all the chemical reactions that happen in our bodies to keep us alive, is intrinsically tied to our sleep-wake cycle. In fact, numerous hormonal processes, including the release of insulin and ghrelin (the 'hunger hormone'), are regulated by our sleep patterns. Consistent, high-quality sleep helps maintain a healthy metabolism, which can in turn, contribute to overall longevity.
Speaking of metabolism as the ability to regulate energy and body composition, great sleep helps you to make healthier food choices and stay active during the day, because your energy and hormones are balanced. When your sleep hasn’t been great, you have less energy and are less active, and your hormonal profile drives you to eat more during the day, especially of hyperpalatable processed foods.
Brain Health and Cognitive Function
Our brains are particularly active during sleep. Sleep is an essential aspect of maintaining optimal brain health and cognitive function, especially as we age. During sleep, you body undergoes processes that directly impact cognitive performance, memory consolidation, and emotional processing, making it a vital factor in promoting overall well-being and longevity.
One of the key processes that occur during sleep is the activation of the glymphatic system. This waste clearance pathway in the brain becomes more active during sleep, working to clear out metabolic waste products that accumulate during the day. Among these waste products are beta-amyloid proteins, which have been linked to cognitive decline and the development of neurodegenerative conditions seen in aging. By efficiently removing these harmful substances, sleep helps protect the brain from the detrimental effects of long-term exposure to metabolic waste.
Another critical aspect of sleep is the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, characterized by intense brain activity and vivid dreaming. During REM sleep, the brain consolidates memories and processes emotional experiences, both of which are crucial for maintaining cognitive function and mental well-being. Research has shown that a lack of REM sleep can lead to impaired memory and emotional instability, emphasizing the importance of this sleep stage for overall brain health.
Age, Sleep, and Lifestyle Factors
As we age, we often experience changes in our sleep patterns. We might find ourselves waking up earlier, experiencing more fragmented sleep, or having a harder time falling asleep. Such changes can be due to a multitude of factors including alterations in our circadian rhythm, lifestyle changes, and age-related health issues.
Don’t chalk sleep changes up to a normal part of aging. Lifestyle factors, including our diet, physical activity, and exposure to light, significantly influence both our sleep quality and our aging process. Regular physical activity, a balanced diet rich in nutrients, and plenty of natural light during the day can help enhance sleep quality and potentially contribute to healthy aging.
Sleeping Heart Rate in Sleep Quality
Our sleeping heart rate, or the number of times our heart beats per minute while we sleep, can also impact sleep quality and longevity. A lower sleeping heart rate typically indicates better cardiovascular health and efficient functioning of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates our body's involuntary processes, such as digestion, breathing, and blood circulation.
As we age, our sleeping heart rate may increase due to factors such as reduced cardiovascular fitness, increased stress levels, and certain medical conditions. Monitoring and maintaining a healthy sleeping heart rate can contribute to better sleep quality and overall health. Most healthy adults have a sleeping heart rate between 50 and 60 beats per minute.
In addition, our heart rate is not static, like a clock. Instead, it varies based on breathing rate, hormonal triggers, electrical signals, and other factors. This is referred to as heart rate variability. A high heart rate variability during sleep is indicative of more restful sleep, while low heart rate variability indicates a stressed state where rest and rejuvenation have been impaired. You can use wearable tracking devices to measure both your heart rate and heart rate variability.
Enhancing Sleep Quality: A Multi-Faceted Approach
Sleep quality plays an integral role in maintaining good health and promoting longevity. With simple modifications to your daily routine and sleep environment, improving sleep quality is an attainable goal. Let's delve into practical strategies you can implement:
Consistent Sleep Schedule
The human body operates on a biological clock known as the circadian rhythm, and it’s pretty closely linked with the day-night cycle of the Earth. Aligning your sleep schedule with this internal timing system by maintaining consistent sleeping and waking times enhances sleep efficiency. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day - weekends included. Start winding down around sunset, and go to bed as close to full dark as you are able. See if you can wake up close to sunrise without an alarm, or use a gentle gradual alarm to wake up. This regularity in sleep-wake cycles allows your body to anticipate sleep, consequently improving the quality of rest.
The environment in which you sleep can significantly impact your sleep quality. Aim for a bedroom that is quiet, dark, and cool - conditions that foster optimal sleep. Strategies include using blackout curtains or eye shades, earplugs, or white noise machines to minimize disruptions. Additionally, your choice of bedding and mattress can contribute to a more comfortable sleep environment. You can add a mattress cover that regulates your body temperature to maximize deep sleep as well.
Screen Time Management
Electronic devices emit blue light that can interfere with your body's natural sleep-wake cycles. These light frequencies emulate sunrise, and can trick our brains into thinking it’s time to wake up. Exposure to this light, particularly before bed, suppresses melatonin secretion - a hormone crucial for sleep regulation. Consider creating a tech-free wind-down routine an hour before bed, swapping screens for relaxing activities such as reading a physical book or listening to soothing music.
Incorporating pre-bedtime relaxation techniques can signal to your body that it's time to sleep. These may include practices such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, gentle stretching, or taking a warm bath. Such activities can reduce stress and anxiety levels, physiological factors often linked to sleep disturbances.
The timing and content of your meals can influence sleep patterns. Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime. These can interfere with the natural progression of sleep stages, particularly the REM and deep sleep stages. Instead, opt for light, easily-digestible evening meals and consider finishing food intake a few hours before your designated bedtime. A special note on alcohol. Many people enjoy a drink around bedtime, and they find that this helps them get to sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol is damaging to sleep cycles and impairs both deep and REM sleep, and increases nighttime heart rate. While this is fine every once in a while, as a habit it can impair rest and regeneration, and negatively impact both overall health and lifespan.
Regular Physical Activity
Regular exercise is a powerful tool for enhancing sleep quality. It not only aids in falling asleep more quickly but also improves the quality and duration of sleep. Both moderate and vigorous aerobic activities have proven beneficial. The current recommendation stands at a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity per week, but remember, any increase in physical activity can contribute to better sleep.
Taking a sleep aid can be beneficial in the quest for regular great sleep, but many sleep aids on the market contain doses of melatonin that are 10-100 times greater than what would naturally be present in our bodies. While this hormone certainly has its place, these large doses can lead to long term sleep disruption. Instead, try a natural sleep aid that includes relaxing neurotransmitters and herbs that promote healthy sleep cycles.
Improving Sleep with Sleep Longevity™ from ProHealth
ProHealth's Sleep Longevity™ is a meticulously formulated supplement that combines natural ingredients known for their sleep-promoting effects. It offers a holistic approach, targeting different aspects of sleep health – from promoting relaxation and soothing the digestive system, to supporting muscle and nerve health. Here's a deeper look into how Sleep Longevity™ works:
Herbal Sleep Support
The therapeutic power of herbs has been harnessed for millennia to aid sleep. Sleep Longevity™ features Sedapine™, a proprietary blend of four synergistic herbs. This includes Ziziphus Jujuba, a cornerstone in traditional Chinese medicine for promoting relaxation and sleep, Corydalis, used historically to reduce stress, and Valerian and Passion Flower, both renowned for their sleep-enhancing properties.
Recognizing the intricate link between digestive health and quality sleep, Sleep Longevity™ includes ingredients aimed at calming and supporting the digestive tract. Lemon Balm is used for its relaxing effects on the digestive system and the nervous system, Ginger and Peppermint aid digestion and promote proper elimination, while Hops have a direct relaxing effect on the central nervous system and can soothe digestion.
Muscle and Nerve Support
Maintaining muscle and nerve health is pivotal for good sleep. Sleep Longevity™ contains ZMA™ and Magnesium Taurinate, two forms of highly bioavailable magnesium. Magnesium aids in balancing nerve transmission and muscle fiber contraction, and the added L-Taurine supports a calm nervous system.
Amino Acid Support
Amino acids, the building blocks of life, play a crucial role in nerve cell health, and the production and balance of neurotransmitters and hormones. Sleep Longevity™ provides GABA, known for its calming effect on the nervous system, and Melatonin, known for supporting healthy sleep patterns and mood. 5-HTP, which the body uses to make serotonin, and L-Theanine, a calming amino acid that boosts levels of GABA, are also part of this sleep-enhancing supplement.
In conclusion, our understanding of sleep and its profound effect on healthy aging continues to evolve. As we delve deeper into this intricate relationship, it becomes clear that sleep is far from being a passive state but rather a dynamic, restorative process that contributes substantially to our healthspan and potentially, our lifespan. While the aging process brings inevitable changes to our sleep patterns, research shows that with the right lifestyle modifications, we can significantly enhance the quality of our sleep.
Embracing regular physical activity, dietary changes, screen time management, and creating an environment conducive to sleep are practical strategies that can result in marked improvements in sleep quality. Furthermore, innovative, scientifically backed natural sleep aids like ProHealth's Sleep Longevity™ offer promising means of augmenting sleep quality, underlining the exciting potential of these interventions in the quest for healthy aging.
We owe it to ourselves to not just value sleep but prioritize it. Just as we invest time and effort into maintaining a healthy diet or regular exercise, it’s crucial to cultivate good sleep habits and improve sleep quality. By doing so, we contribute not only to our overall well-being but also to our longevity. If longevity is a mosaic of healthy lifestyle habits, then quality sleep is undoubtedly one of its central pieces. So let's prioritize a good night's sleep - your future self will thank you. After all, aging gracefully isn't just about adding years to our lives; it's about adding life to our years. And that journey begins with the magic that happens between the sheets – a good night's sleep.
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