Sleep Disorders Age Us Faster and Hasten the Onset of Disease

aa-15.jpgSimple insomnia, so common in older adults, may speed the onset or increase the severity of age-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and memory loss.

Nearly a decade ago, researchers at the University of Chicago discovered that not getting enough sleep does a lot more than make us feel tired the next day. Chronic lack of sleep can obstruct basic metabolism and hormone production in the same way that aging does, and has the same signs as the early stages of diabetes. If you chronically toss and turn, or wake up feeling unrested, it’s time to ask your doctor if you are suffering from one of the many treatable sleep disorders.

Sleep researchers have amassed a list of sleep disorders as long as your arm, some with pretty complex names and text-book style descriptions. They encompass the gamut of mental, emotional and physical problems — almost everything you could think of that might keep you awake tossing and turning, waking and sleeping, all night long. The bottom line is that almost all sleep disorders can be treated, and if it’s interfering with your life, it should be treated. Lousy sleep for weeks on end can make you older and sicker than your years.

The Chicago researchers showed how just one week of sleep deprivation altered test subjects’ hormone levels, and their capacity to metabolize carbohydrates. Elevated blood sugar levels, following a high-carbohydrate meal, took 40% longer to return to normal compared to when the subjects got a good sleep. The ability to secrete and respond to the insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar, dropped by 30%. They also exhibited higher concentrations of cortisol, a hormone which also helps regulate blood sugar, and lower levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone. Raised cortisol levels are often seen in older people, and may be involved in age-related insulin resistance and memory loss — neither of which you want if a good night’s sleep can prevent it.

These kinds of changes are the same as those seen with ‘insulin resistance,’ a precursor to type 2 diabetes. And they are also seen in cases of obesity, which is a comorbid diabetes condition. This means that people with sleep disorders may be pushing their bodies towards type 2 diabetes, so common in older Americans that it’s considered almost an epidemic. We need to take sleep disorders seriously, and get them handled right away.

Sleep drugs, whether prescription or over-the-counter, carry risks that you can avoid by looking for more natural remedies. If sleep problems seem less serious than needing a doctor, you should try a natural, drug-free sleep aid that contains relaxing sleep-inducing herbs like valerian root, chamomile, and passion flower. The hormone melatonin, found in all living creatures, also helps you relax and get a good sleep. And it’s a terrific anti-aging antioxidant that should be part of your ant-aging diet anyway.

Chronic lack of sleep acts as a kind of stress on the body, and continued stress almost always results in something breaking down eventually. But in the study mentioned above, the subjects’ blood sugar and hormone concentrations were restored after they ‘caught up’ on their sleep. This tells us that if we can discover what’s keeping us awake, or help us get a good night’s sleep with a natural drug-free sleep aid, we can reverse some or all of the negative effects that sleep disorders have been causing.

America’s average sleep time has grown shorter in recent decades, from 9 hours to 7 hours or less, and with the advent of late-night television, many are going to bed much later. The old adage, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” has been scientifically proven, at least as far health goes. Studies show that getting to bed well before midnight, even as early as 9 or 10 p.m., makes a big difference in balancing our systems and reducing disease and aging. And although many people trade their sleep time for work or play and seem to get away with it, it will catch up with most of them in the future. Many experts now say that 8 or even 9 hours of sleep is necessary for most people, and is just as important as adequate exercise.

There’s nothing wrong with getting lots of sleep, and there’s a lot that is right about it. Research into ‘sleep therapy’ — putting a patient to sleep and keeping him asleep for extended periods of time — can sometimes alleviate a whole range of conditions, from physical illness to depression. We don’t want to stay asleep for weeks on end, but we don’t want to get older and sicker any sooner than we have to. Treating our insomnia may not make us wealthy, but it’s a wise way to start getting healthier.

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