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Counting Sheep to Reverse the Clock: How Getting Enough Sleep Slows Aging

Counting Sheep to Reverse the Clock: How Getting Enough Sleep Slows Aging

Author: Kevin Passero, ND
Date: June 17, 2010

Getting adequate sleep each night is one of the cornerstones of maintaining optimal health. Most experts agree that getting 6-8 hours of restful, rejuvenating sleep each night is essential to maintaining optimal focus, concentration, mood and energy levels. Adequate rest also plays a crucial role in keeping immune function at its peak, which is an especially important consideration during cold and flu season.

Getting enough sleep also has many other benefits that many people don’t know about, the most compelling of which is its ability to slow the aging process.

During the day, our physiology is dominated by hormones, which support the body’s ability to function both physically and mentally. Cortisol is a commonly known stress hormone that circulates at high levels throughout the day. Its primary function is to help support the energy demands of the body by liberating sugars and fuel into the blood stream. It also suppresses immune function to reduce inflammation and blunt the immune response. When it falls to its lowest levels at night, immune function increases, which is why most people will spike fevers or feel worse when they are sick at night. All of those symptoms are created by an active immune system.

To offset the immune suppressing effects of cortisol production during the day, the body releases another hormone at night called growth hormone.

Human growth hormone (also known as HGH) is naturally released by our bodies every day. The most significant triggers for the release of growth hormone are strenuous physical exertion, and most importantly, sleep. When cortisol levels fall at night, our bodies are triggered to release growth hormone. Its role is to undo the physical stress exerted on our bodies by cortisol and injury incurred from daily activity. We literally heal when we sleep. We also know that growth hormone production significantly declines as we age, and it is thought that this decline is one of the primary contributors to the aging process. Although growth hormone has been synthesized and is available as a prescription, taking it as a hormone replacement is highly controversial and comes with the risk of some serious side effects.

The best way to ensure that growth hormone levels stay high as you age is to engage in strenuous physical activity every day and to get good sleep each and every night. Getting to sleep before midnight is vital, as this helps to trigger growth hormone release.

Although prescription sleep aids improve sleep patterns for many people, they do not always create the kind of restful, rejuvenating sleep that happens without drug therapy. Having your body cycle through the various stages of sleep throughout the night is critically important to getting restful sleep. Many prescription sleep aids prevent your body from cycling through those critical stages of sleep.