The Role of Sleep in Aging Well


When it comes to aging, we are inundated with tips and tricks and so-called “hacks” that supposedly reverse the sands of time and can keep us looking and feeling 20 years old forever. But there is no magic cure to human aging, and who wants to be young forever, anyway? Instead, our focus as women over 50 should be on aging gracefully and with our good health.

Aging with our health and humor intact is a task in and of itself, however. There are so many intersecting factors at play that it can be hard to keep track of what we should be eating and doing every day to keep our bodies and minds fit.


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Despite spending an overwhelming majority of life doing it, however, sleep still gets overlooked. Focusing on getting a good night’s rest is the easiest, most impactful thing you can do to maintain good health as you enter your midlife. The quality of our sleep affects every process our body performs and how effective it is at performing those necessary functions.

If you have a history of diabetes in your family, or if you have struggled with cultivating a healthy diet, you will want to take extra care that you are getting enough sleep each night. When you do not get enough sleep, your hormones are thrown for a loop. You start to crave carbohydrates and are less likely to feel satiated after eating.

Insufficient Sleep

Insufficient sleep specifically affects the way we use insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. An inability to produce insulin in response to sugar intake means that our body must cope with elevated levels of sugar in the bloodstream. Over time, this takes a toll and can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. On top of this, problematic insulin production is thought to contribute to heart disease and weight gain as well.

Those with a history of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia should also be concerned with maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. Though even those without a family history may be at risk, you should still be concerned that you are taking all reasonable measures against developing the disease later in life.

One way you can boost your odds of not developing a degenerative brain disease is to prioritize a healthy and regular sleep cycle. When you sleep, your brain has an opportunity to essentially clear away the “waste” that builds up in its tissues, and it does so ten times more effective than it does when it is awake. 

When your brain “cleans” itself, it is washing away problematic materials like beta-amyloid, the presence of which is associated with increased Alzheimer’s disease risk. Less effective sleep means your brain is less effective at cleaning itself and washing away these materials. Their buildup over time spells bad news for your brain’s ability to store memories and process information.

On a more surface level, sleep also affects the way we look. Consistently skimping on sleep may be prematurely aging you or age your appearance more rapidly than you might age otherwise. When you are falling behind on adequate sleep, your body and mind go into stress mode. Stress mode produces cortisol, which leads to inflammation. Inflammation is linked to dull and blotchy skin.

Likewise, when you miss sleep, your body is missing an opportunity to produce collagen. The development and maintenance of collagen are essential in keeping bouncy, wrinkle-free skin. With decreased or poor collagen production, your skin will appear thin and crepe-like over time.

What to Do About It

Okay, okay. So you get the picture. Less sleep leads to trouble, both on an interior and exterior level. Insufficient sleep affects your mind, your body, and your appearance. Your health will suffer, and you probably won’t feel great.

You can make a few changes today to start getting more, and getting better, sleep. First, make sure you are using the best pillow and the best mattress within your budget. These things are worth the investment. Next, try cultivating a super relaxing bedtime routine that gives you plenty of time to get into the spirit of sleep. After enough weeks spent doing this routine, your body will get the message to start getting sleepy as soon as you begin the routine.

But what if you have trouble getting a tight 7-9 hours a night? For some people, it’s easier said than done. A few simple changes can make a big difference in the quality of sleep you get, which in turn will affect the quantity. However, even if you can only manage a solid five hours of a very restful, very deep sleep, you should consider that a win. High quality sleep is better than a lot of subpar hours spent sleeping.


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The Role of Sleep in Aging Well
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