By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
November 4, 2019
Poor sleeping habits are more than just tiresome… they can actually harm your long-term health.
I have many patients who struggle to find ways to sleep soundly through the night. For some, they give up and claim, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
Well, if your body doesn’t get the rest it needs, this may happen sooner than you’d like!
Now, we all have those nights when we just can’t fall asleep… or stay asleep. But if you’re regularly getting less than seven hours a night – maybe 3 or 4 hours is all you can manage – it could be a big problem.
This small amount of sleep (also called a biphasic sleep pattern) is not always enough time for your brain to be renewed after a day of stress. Ideally, each night, your body sends cerebrospinal fluid up into the brain to wash away oxidative byproducts.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis?
Well, poor sleeping habits are associated with all sorts of health issues. It throws the hormones that control your hunger out of balance, making you crave high calorie foods that pack on the pounds. For instance, you may crave lots of unhealthy carbs after a restless night.
Lack of sleep also affects your glucose metabolism and insulin response. This can greatly increase your chance of diabetes. That’s why poor sleep patterns are strongly associated with obesity.
Too few ZZZs also increases inflammation levels, raises your blood pressure and boosts your risk of a stroke or heart attack. It even adds to your chances of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease! I’m sure you’re wondering, “How can just a few hours of missed sleep cause such serious health conditions?”
Well, today we’re finding shorter periods of sleep actually accelerate cellular aging. It makes you older more quickly.
Here’s what happens…
If You Aren’t Sleeping Well, You’re Aging Too Quickly
First, you need to remember those things called telomeres…
Telomeres are tiny protective DNA caps on the end of your chromosomes. Each time your cells divide, your telomeres lose some of their length. The shorter they get, the faster you age and the sicker you become.
What do these telomeres have to do with sleep?
It turns out that not getting enough sleep shortens your telomeres more quickly. For example, people who sleep five hours or less a night have telomeres that are much shorter than those who sleep more than seven hours a night.
And here’s something interesting…
Older adults who regularly get seven or more hours of sleep have telomere lengths that match adults decades younger. So, more hours of sleep can help keep your chromosomes younger for longer!
When your telomeres are shorter, it causes all kinds of problems within your body. This includes mitochondrial damage, reduced immune cell activity, increased oxidative stress (inflammation) and damage to your heart tissue – all of the things that make you old and sick.
Luckily there are some strategies you can use to sleep well – night after night.
Here’s How to Get More Sleep
First off, lay off the caffeinated or sugary beverages and foods in the evening…for those of us who are slow metabolizers that can mean no caffeine or sugary drinks or foods after 2-4 pm. They’ll just make your body and mind more alert when it’s time to wind down.
Then, try to avoid eating high-protein foods at your evening meal. They contain tyrosine, which converts to dopamine and norepinephrine. These are both stimulants that promote alertness and activity.
A better choice for your last meal of the day a colorful plate of non-starchy veggies. (I love the health benefits of veggies from all colors of the rainbow!)
For some people, I even recommend a few nighttime pieces of sliced rolled organic turkey for the tryptophan benefit.
It’s also a good idea to get your more active and mentally challenging chores completed early in the evening. After all, when your body is in motion and your mind is racing, it takes a while to calm down your senses so you can fall asleep. So give yourself an hour or two to wind down before hitting the sack.
Better yet – if you can – take a warm bath with two scoops of Epsom salts. The magnesium in the salts relaxes you. And, the heat you lose when you get out of the bath drops your body temperature and makes you sleepy.
Smartphones, computers, televisions and other electronics may also be interfering with your sleep. The blue light from these devices can mess with your circadian rhythm and melatonin levels. This, in turn, affects your ability to fall and stay asleep.
With this in mind, it makes good sense to shut down your devices well before you’re ready to turn out the lights. Oh… and no blinking LEDs.
If you still have a hard time falling asleep, try 1 to 3 milligrams of melatonin before bedtime. Use it only as long as it takes to re-establish your natural sleeping pattern.
Last thing to help…drop the temperature in your bedroom to 65-67 degrees which has been proven to be the optimal temperature for a good night sleep…break out the down comforter if needed.
Jackowska M, et al. Short sleep duration is associated with shorter telomere length in healthy men: findings from the Whitehall II cohort study. PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47292.
Cribbet MR, et al. Cellular aging and restorative processes: subjective sleep quality and duration moderate the association between age and telomere length in a sample of middle-aged and older adults. Sleep. 2014 Jan 1;37(1):65-70
Prather AA, et al. Shorter Leukocyte Telomere Length in Midlife Women with Poor Sleep Quality. J Aging Res. 2011: 721390.
Kiecolt-Glaser JK, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Sep 23. pii: S0889-1591(12)00431-X.