Editorial / Health & Wellbeing

Why Sleep is Essential for Healthy Ageing

Deep restorative sleep is one of the most important factors for overall well-being and healthy ageing. Understanding how sleep impacts our body can help us prioritise it and, in turn, promote longevity.

The average person needs 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to maintain optimal health, with women needing more sleep than men. 

During this time, our body cycles through different stages of sleep approximately five times. Each stage of the sleep cycle is essential for various processes of repair and regeneration. 

When we don’t get enough sleep or experience frequent interruptions, our body misses out on these critical restorative processes.

One of the essential functions of sleep is the activation of the glymphatic system, which helps clear waste products from the brain. During deep sleep, the glymphatic system flushes out toxins and metabolic waste, such as beta-amyloid, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Without adequate sleep, this detoxification process is impaired, potentially accelerating cognitive decline and other neurodegenerative conditions. 

Sleep quality significantly influences several hormones that regulate hunger, satiety, stress, and metabolism.

Leptin: This hormone helps us feel full, reduces appetite, and increases the amount of energy we burn at rest. Poor sleep reduces leptin production, making it harder to feel satiated, which can lead to overeating.

Ghrelin: Known as the hunger hormone, ghrelin levels increase with poor sleep, leading to a heightened appetite. This explains why after a bad night’s sleep, we often crave comfort foods and struggle to feel satisfied after meals.

These hormonal imbalances promote overeating and weight gain, contributing to obesity, a major risk factor for age-related diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Lack of quality sleep also increases cortisol levels, the stress hormone, which promotes fat storage, particularly around the abdomen. Elevated cortisol also leads to chronic stress which is one of the underlying causes of many age related diseases and accelerated ageing. It creates chronic inflammation, oxidative stress and also affects insulin levels, leading to blood sugar imbalances and increased cravings for sugary and carbohydrate-rich foods. 

Poor sleep negatively impacts blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity. Inadequate sleep can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and decreased insulin sensitivity, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation, oxidative stress and cardiovascular disease. 

Chronic poor quality & quantity of sleep causes the body to produce more insulin after eating, which promotes fat storage and makes it harder to lose weight. One night of bad sleep gives you the insulin resistance of a type 2 diabetic.

This metabolic disruption creates a vicious cycle of poor sleep and weight gain, further exacerbating insulin resistance and increasing the risk of metabolic diseases and accelerating ageing processes by increasing inflammation & oxidative stress. 

Poor sleep not only impacts hunger hormones but also creates a cascade of other health issues. Increased cortisol levels can lead to chronic inflammation, negatively affecting liver and gut health. 

This disruption further impacts the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, creating a feedback loop that perpetuates stress and poor sleep due to the high cortisol levels and chronic stress causing you to wake between 2-4am.

Not enough sleep & interrupted sleep disrupts the balance of gut bacteria, leading to dysbiosis. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for nutrient absorption, immune function, and overall health. Dysbiosis can cause gastrointestinal issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and increase the risk of inflammatory bowel diseases. Poor gut health can negatively impact hormone balance, immune function, cognitive function, and healthy ageing.

During deep sleep stages, the body undergoes various repair and regeneration processes. This includes muscle repair, tissue growth, protein synthesis, and the release of growth hormones. Adequate sleep is essential for these processes, ensuring that the body can recover and maintain optimal functioning.

Quality sleep is fundamental for maintaining overall health and promoting longevity. By prioritising restorative sleep, we can support our body’s repair processes, regulate hormones, and enhance our well-being. Implementing healthy sleep habits can make a significant difference in how we age and how we feel each day.

Tips for Improving Sleep Quality

  • Block Blue Light: Avoid blue light after 7pm. Blue lights are found in LED lights, TVs, Laptops and your phone. The best way to block blue light is with blue light blocker glasses (ensure they have a red tint and are tested to block blue and green light).
  • Get morning sunshine: this will help regulate your circadian rhythm ensuring you make melatonin (your sleep hormone) at the right time
  • Work on addressing stress & regulating cortisol: being in nature, time for rest and relaxation, regular protein
  • No coffee on an empty stomach or after 11am
  • See a naturopath to get to the root causes of your sleep issues

Guest article by Michaela Sparrow, founder of The Longevity Remedy.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.