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Posted by Danielle Winston

The Link Between Aging & Sleep

Sleep… Some of us love it. Others resist its charms and struggle to quiet the mind long enough to surrender to the night. Even though we may have different feelings surrounding sleep, there’s no denying that we all need it for basic survival. Just as it isn’t healthy to feed ourselves a diet of processed foods because our body would suffer the consequences, it’s not healthy to exist on poor sleep habits either. How much rest we get and its quality… matters... a lot. And like sleep, when it comes to aging, it’s not the same for everybody. Various lifestyle choices factor in, such as diet, exercise, and of course, genetics. Another important aspect is the body’s own ability to perform cell regeneration.

Beauty sleep isn’t magic. It’s science. There are reasons we look better after a good night’s rest. Between the age 30-40 the amount of growth hormones the body creates begins to decline; and during deep sleep we produce new ones. As these hormones work to heal and renew, they also stimulate collagen synthesis. A recent study showed another interesting link between aging and the brain. Since the brain is able to clear away harmful toxins during slow-wave sleep, and as we get older it becomes more difficult to achieve these deep delta cycles, researchers believe there may be it a correlation between sleep, aging and Alzheimer's disease.    

Stress also plays a significant role in how we age and may accelerate the process; since it triggers the release of cortisol, stress can contribute to wrinkles and weight gain. We know that mindfulness practices such as Yoga and meditation combat the body’s fear response, boost immunity and have countless health benefits. Sleep is another powerful way to combat stress, while simultaneously rebooting our body. These internal repairs are also reflected outwardly. Not only in how we look but also the way we physically age. Plus, when we get enough nightly rest our days are fuller. Along with being relaxed, we’re sharper and more focused throughout the day. So… how do we prioritize sleep? Just because it’s good for us doesn’t mean it’s easy to snooze once our head hits the pillow.

Benefit from your own anti-aging ability. Instead of crawling under the covers and hoping for the best, here are some mindful ways to optimize sleep...   

LightStaring at a computer screen can disrupt our circadian rhythms and cloud your ability to sleep. At least an hour before bed shut off all devices. Notice your curtains. Are they sheer? Do they allow fragments of light to filter in? If so, consider getting an opaque curtain and/or sleeping with eye pillows to block out excess light.

Sound: if you listen to music before bed, choose soothing tunes rather than energizing ones. And an hour before sleeping, shut off all sounds and let your listening attune to the night. For additional quiet, consider earplugs or a white noise machine.  

Surface: to prevent tossing and turning throughout the night, make sure your body is naturally aligned. If your muscles and joints are restricted or uncomfortable, it can be difficult to fall asleep and stay that way. Examine the mattress you’re sleeping on and the materials its made from. Make sure it’s not too hard or soft. Depending on your sleep position, make sure your spine is going with its natural curvature. Are you able to breathe easy? Are there dust mites silently collecting inside your bed or bedding? Are you sleeping on toxic materials? If so, consider a new pillow and/or mattress. The cleaner the better.   

Mind: oftentimes we have trouble drifting off because the mind is still active. Try a mini Yoga Nidra (the Yogic Sleep) before bed. Lie on your back with arms by your side and feet a few inches apart. Softly clench the hands, feet and all the muscles in your face, for just a moment and inhale. Exhale and release everything. Allow the arms and legs to gently roll from side to side and then forget about them. Gently roll the head from side to side and bring it back to center. Then use your mind to imagine a healing light starting at your feet, moving up through your body, taking with it any remaining bits of tension and releasing into the air. As you breathe through your nose into your belly, slowly let the thoughts pass without judgement.   



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