Although we don't generally think of sleep as a great time to get things done, our bodies and minds accomplish a tremendous amount of hard work while our eyes are closed. Far from being something non-productive that takes up our valuable time, sleep is a vital biological function necessary to maintain optimal physical and mental health.
Unfortunately, for most of us, at some point in our lives, the amount and quality of our sleep will be compromised by one or more stressors such as health concerns, age, work, family, financial struggles or environmental exposure.
The consequences of such compromised sleep for the body are tremendous, and since the skin is our largest and most exposed organ, the effects are clearly visible as signs of skin aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, loss of elasticity, dryness, rough texture, sallow complexion, under-eye puffiness and dark circles.
Because sleep is essential to preserve and restore your overall health and the healthy appearance of your skin, it's important to establish and maintain a healthy pattern and to take advantage of the fact that it's the ideal time to help repair your body through topical and internal anti-aging treatments.
Why Is Sleep Important?
Sleep is a state of programmed inactivity and disconnection from the environment that enables the body to replenish energy, as well as to regenerate cells and tissues. During sleep, cell proliferation and collagen synthesis accelerate to optimize tissue repair. It is also a time for mental maintenance as the brain integrates new information into long-term memory.
Some have equated our sleeping mental functions with catching up on filing - and tossing out the trash - and our perception of that process may be the base material from which our dreams are woven. Healthy sleep also provides us with an important source of emotional self-care - one of the critical elements of an Inclusive approach to optimizing health.
The Inclusive approach looks to provide total body heath support through topical care of skin to renew and restore the body's protective barrier, internal care through dietary supplements to preserve and promote cellular integrity, and emotional self-care to help blunt the cell-ravaging impact of stress.
As we can all attest from having seen the tears and rage that come so easy to sleep deprived children - and some exhausted adults - sleep may be the ultimate source of emotional self-care. From the topical and internal perspectives, sleep provides an opportunity to repair cell membrane and connective tissue damage caused by free radicals that are induced by everyday living - stress, tension, pollution, smoking, ultraviolet rays and even ordinary cellular metabolism.
Because sleep is a period of net water loss, it is important to encourage the body to hold as much healthy water in cells and connective tissue as possible. That's why topical skin night treatments should be extra hydrating and part of an overall regimen that is designed to help preserve and promote the health and strength of the skin's barrier.
A regular internal care program is also a critical part of preparing for a good night's sleep. By providing your body with the building blocks of strong cell membranes and healthy connective tissue, water levels in the cells are optimized to ideal functional levels and remain a ready reserve to fight nighttime dehydration.
What Are The Consequences of Substandard Sleep?
A recent National Sleep Foundation survey revealed that more than 75% of adult Americans experience one or more symptoms of a sleep disorder at least a few nights per week. The prevalence of such problems increases with age. Chronic loss of sleep leads to more than the familiar loss of energy - it leads to a loss of coordination, focus and reaction time, which puts it on a par with drunk driving as a major cause of automobile and industrial accidents.
Insufficient sleep is also a major risk factor for many chronic diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment and even some cancers). Many theories have been offered to explain the connection of loss of sleep to disease processes. Strong evidence suggests that loss of cellular and tissue repair time results in imbalances, which have a significant negative impact on all bodily systems including:
- Elevating secretion of cortisol, which can cause decreased collagen production in skin; increased water loss; suppression of the immune system; insulin resistance - a risk factor for diabetes and obesity; and disturbance in bone metabolism, which contributes to the development of osteoporosis.
- Decreasing secretion of the human growth hormone, which has a negative impact on cell proliferation, tissue repair and glucose tolerance - a risk factor for diabetes and obesity.
- Loss of intracellular water, which is the ultimate pathway of aging as predicted by The Science of Cellular Water.
Of these three consequences, the final has perhaps the most severe impact on skin cells and skin connective tissue (collagen and elastin) and is probably the main culprit in causing the accelerated skin aging that can come with lack of sleep.
In addition to the adverse consequences of poor sleep, a body of data is emerging that indicates that when and how we sleep can also play a critical role in our overall health. Studies have shown increased risks for cardiovascular issues, cancer and obesity in people who have shifted away from a sleep schedule tied to the conventional circadian rhythm, owing to such things as night work or even sleeping in a bright room.
Explanations vary for these effects, but the disconnect between a time-shifted, darkness-deprived life and our conventional daily circadian cycles for hormones such as melatonin, testosterone and insulin is likely to be a significant factor.
What Can Be Done to Improve the Quantity and Quality of Sleep?
The quest to discover the magic herb, pill or potion to help us get to sleep is an ancient one. And while the current market for prescription sleep aids is measured in billions of dollars, recent studies indicate that these drugs may help us to fall asleep faster, but add as little as ten minutes of extra time! Perhaps it is the hypnotic effect of some of these drugs that simply allows us to forget a night of tossing and turning.
One successful avenue of treatment for periodic sleep issues is supplementation with melatonin. The body's production decreases with age and that diminution may be a factor in age-related sleep issues. Recent investigations have explored ways in which melatonin can be used both internally and externally to support deeper, more restful night's rest and to support improved efficiency of the body's repair cycle.
But looking beyond natural chemical intervention, the most important thing that we can do to improve our chances for a good night's sleep is to establish good sleep hygiene. That means setting a regular bedtime and wake-up time; avoiding caffeine, alcohol and food for at least four hours before bedtime; avoiding exercise for at least two hours before bedtime; keeping the bedroom cool, dark, quiet and slightly dry (dehumidified if necessary); using the bedroom exclusively for sleep and sex; and perhaps most critically, avoiding stressful discussions or activities for a few hours before bedtime.
Review of that 401(k) can wait until morning.By looking at your health from a global perspective, and seeking out the support you need to adopt an Inclusive approach to caring for yourself, you're likely to find that better sleep is a natural byproduct of better overall health.
Because an Inclusive approach optimizes health all the way down to the cellular level, you'll find a functional improvement in every system in your body - and your sleep cycle is no exception. If you experience a sudden change in your sleep pattern - or find that insomnia is becoming a chronic problem - let your primary care physician know so that he or she can make sure that the change in sleep is not symptomatic of an underlying health concern.
About the Author
Howard Murad, M.D., dermatologist, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCLA and founder and CEO of Murad, Inc., is recognized as one of the world's foremost authorities in skin health. Using his medical experience, Dr. Murad has developed and clinically proven The Science of Cellular Water.
The world's most comprehensive approach to understanding health and aging, The Science of Cellular Water looks at the ability of cell membranes to hold water as the fundamental marker of youthful good health and advocates an Inclusive Health approach to help the body create stronger, healthier cells as the pathway to beauty.