Sleep Hygiene and Aging

We spend a lot of time talking about skin care products, the latest in treatments, or things like diet and exercise. An often overlooked factor is sleep. It’s what we all know to be good and healthy, and yet it’s almost always the first thing that gets cut when life gets busy.

When we’re kids, sleep is a kind of penalty--a time out of sorts; as we age, for many, sleep becomes more precious and elusive. Part of it is that sleep is often the first thing that gets cut when our schedules get busy--usually at our peril. The other trouble is that with age, we become less efficient at sleeping. We spend more time getting to sleep, and we spend less hours in the useful phases of sleep that allows us to recover energy, memory, alertness, and general functionality. Discounting true sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea, which also become more common with age, even the more common skimping on sleep can have dire consequences on not just your health and well-being, but your appearance as well.

Scientists now know that sleep deprivation is a lot like being drunk, without the fun of course. Your performance at various tasks degrade, and it also impairs your judgment--including the judgment on how impaired you are, and therefore sleep deprived people underestimate the effect of their self-deprivation. There are many mechanisms of sleep that we don’t fully understand, but we do know that it’s closely interconnected with our overall health and well being. As is often the case, our skin is the first place where visible symptoms show. It’s not like anybody enjoys being sleep deprived. We get it; life happens. Sometimes you need to go without sleep, but the next time that you decide to prioritize the latest TV Series over your sleep, you might want to think about the consequences.

Immune system:

It’s no accident that you seem to always catch the flu after a poorly planned party, or exam crams. The immune system becomes suppressed, making you more vulnerable to colds and other infections.

Inflammation:

The inflammatory response rises when you are sleep deprived. While inflammation is a good defense mechanism, persistent inflammation exhausts the immune system. It may also raise the probability of other skin problems like psoriasis, or even raise the likelihood of heart problems when sleep deprivation becomes chronic.

Collagen production:

Collagen is the building blocks of healthy and supple skin. During sleep your body produces hormones that help rebuild collagen. Your skin quality can suffer if you stack up too many days of sleep deprivation, and wrinkles may appear deeper temporarily until you recoup some of that lost sleep.

Blood flow:

Puffy eyes, and healthy looking skin around the face requires proper delivery of nutrients through blood. When blood isn’t flowing well to the face, it can cause puffy or dark colors under the eyes that make you look extra tired.

Mood and weight:

You don’t look happy, obviously. When you’re exhausted from lack of sleep, you’re not, in fact, happy and your skin and your expression will show it. Sleep also regulates various hormones. Though the causal mechanisms are still unclear sleep deprivation is strongly correlated to weight gain. This may be due to poorly regulated hormones like leptin that control hunger levels.

Called the Sleep Hygiene, there are some universally agreed upon principles for getting a consistent sleep every night.

  • Keep a regular schedule; your body doesn’t know that it’s Saturday
  • Get enough sleep--7 to 9 hours depending on the individual
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Avoid eating within 3 hours of sleep
  • Avoid alcohol before sleep
  • Remove cell phones, TVs, and computers from your bedroom
  • Exercise, but try to avoid excessive activity up to 3 hours before sleep

Sleep hygiene is all about honing good habits. There’s very little that isn’t common sense in the list above, but it’s structuring your life to make it easier for you to follow through that changes the quality and quantity of your sleep over time. Finally, it’s important to remember that, if, despite your best efforts, you are unable to sleep sufficiently, or have poor quality sleep (you are tired in the morning no matter how many hours you sleep), it might be time to see a doctor who specializes in sleep.