Sleep is vital to the functioning of our bodies and influences moods, emotions, and even certain metabolic functions. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests that a healthy adult should sleep at least seven hours every night. However, it is common for many adults to sleep less than these seven hours for several reasons. It could be due to changes in the body’s circadian rhythm, which functions as the internal clock of the body. For some adults, the amount of time spent in REM sleep, which is the phase of deep sleep, decreases as they age. However, sometimes adults might get less sleep because of non-biological factors such as staying up late to work or do some other task.
Why Is Sleep Important?
Sleep is essential for cognitive functions of the brain, which include the ability to think logically, solve problems, and multitask. Sleep also affects hormones that regulate moods and appetite, and sleep deprivation can result in an inability to control food consumption, increasing the risk of obesity. Studies have also shown that getting a good night’s sleep helps the body to regulate blood pressure, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Sleep deprivation has also been shown to increase inflammation in the body, hence increasing the risk of disease progression.
How Does Sleep Affect Aging?
Since sleep affects factors such as cognitive functioning and hormone regulation, it is important to prioritize sleep as one grows older. Consistently sleeping less than the recommended six to seven hours a day could result in the progression of certain conditions, which in turn influence aging. One of the recent findings in a study on sleep deprivation showed that beta-amyloid accumulated in the brains of sleep-deprived study participants. Accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, implying that constant sleep deprivation could be a risk factor for the early onset of Alzheimer’s. It has also been found that getting good quality sleep promotes the skin’s restorative and repairability, leaving the skin looking much younger. Since a lot of repair processes in cells occur during the sleep cycle, having quality sleep also promotes the body’s ability to self-repair. When cells have limited capacity to self-repair, this could accelerate the aging process. In addition to repairing and renewing cells during sleep, the body also eliminates waste products such as toxins accumulating within the body. It is thought that toxins from the brain are also removed during sleep; sleep deprivation slows down this process and can lead to brain degeneration as one gets older.
However, it is also important to note that while sleep influences aging, many other factors can either accelerate or slow down aging. It is also possible that various combinations of factors, sleep included, can influence the aging process.