WELLNESS
03/11/2016 07:54 am ET Updated Mar 12, 2017

4 Ways Quality Sleep Supports Healthy Aging

By: Rosie Osmun

It's easy to feel the short-term benefits of good rest, but science shows that making a habit of sound shut-eye pays dividends years down the road.

We know that getting a good night's rest helps us feel better in the morning, but what may be even more important is how consistent sleep habits might predict future health. From smoother, glowing skin to a sharper mind and a healthier heart, mounting research shows that quality rest can help us all age a little more gracefully. Here's how.

Regular Sleep Reduces Risk of Alzheimer's Disease
Those planning on powering through early adulthood and middle age with little sleep and resting in old age might want to take particular notice. One recent review from Baylor University examining decades of data, suggests that getting good sleep in middle age and young adulthood protects against age-related cognitive decline during senior years.

Deep sleep plays an important role in memory, and research shows that missing out on rest can contribute to a build up of beta-amyloid protein in the brain, associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease. In middle to older age, continuing to practice good habits is further associated with healthy brain function and reducing risk of dementia.

Deep Sleep Protects Skin Against Damage and Aging
During sleep, our bodies repair and renew at a cellular level. For example, growth hormone peaks during deep sleep, which plays an important role in aging and metabolism. Even a single night of sleep deprivation can affect how attractive and healthy we appear to other people.

A study conducted by Estee Lauder and University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, found that middle-aged women with poor sleep habits showed more advanced signs of skin aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, unevenness, and saggy skin compared to good sleepers. Poor sleepers also showed slower recovery from damage and had less confidence in their own looks.

Restful Sleep Lowers Risk of Obesity
Staying fit is about more than just appearances; maintaining a healthy weight reduces risks of conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers. Healthy sleep is believed to affect weight in a couple of different ways: A lack of it affects metabolism mechanisms, increases hunger and overall calorie intake, and increases fatigue. Being well-rested makes it easier to choose healthier foods and stick to workout routines, which can make a big difference over the long term. Studies have found that people with poor sleep habits, including too little rest and irregular schedules, are more prone to gaining weight as they age.

Related: The Surprising Connection Between Meditation and Weight Loss

Good Sleep Protects Your Heart
Heart disease remains the leading cause of mortality both men and women in the United States. Along with an active lifestyle and balanced diet, sleep plays an important role in minimizing risk. Good sleep habits are associated with lower cholesterol, healthier blood pressure, healthier weight, reduced diabetes risk, and other positive lifestyle habits (like exercise and eating well) -- all of which encompass the leading risk factors for developing heart disease.

Studies have found that short-term sleep deprivation increases blood pressure and inflammation while affecting hormones and gene expression. When a lack of rest becomes habitual, these changes can affect health. One large study of middle-age female nurses found that both sleeping too little and too much was linked with higher risks of developing heart disease over a 10-year period compared with normal sleepers.

Heart disease does not solely affect the elderly; everyone is at risk, including teenagers. Research shows that teens who don't get enough rest have higher cholesterol, blood pressure and body weight, which makes them high risk for heart disease later in life.

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