Lack of sleep speeds up the ageing process

- and a melatonin deficiency plays a crucial role

Lack of sleep speeds up the ageing processSleep deficiency is a common problem that is linked to lifestyle, and many people actually get used to it. Still, chronic lack of sleep is very bad for your health and is associated with accelerated ageing and a risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a study that is published in the science journal, Communication Biology. Research from the last decades has demonstrated how the hormone, melatonin, optimizes sleep and serves as a powerful antioxidant that protects cells. One of the world’s leading melatonin researchers, Dr. Walter Pierpaoli, refers to melatonin as the “miracle hormone” that is able to delay ageing by way of several mechanisms. In the following, you can read more about the ageing process, how to optimize your melatonin levels, and why a melatonin supplement can be a perfect solution with a positive impact on your health and life expectancy.

Since the beginning of time, humans have grown accustomed to being awake and active during the daytime hours and asleep at night when it is dark outside. It has also always been essential for us humans to sleep heavily and to dream, at this helps us recover during the night, so we feel physically and mentally recharged the next day. Also, toxic metabolites are removed from the brain when we sleep. If we do not get enough sleep, we feel drained. Not only does this make us tired and lethargic, it may eventually increase our risk of various diseases, plus it may speed up our ageing process.

Sleep affects our biological age

Decades of studies show that lack of sleep is associated with poor health. In the new study, scientists from Singapore used technical equipment to analyze the sleep pattern of 480 healthy volunteers for an entire week. In addition, the scientists registered the participants’ BMI, waist circumference, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar, all of which are linked to the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In order to estimate the biological age of the participants, their telomer length was analyzed. Telomers are DNA structures attached at the end of the chromosomes that become increasingly short every time the cell replicates and the body ages. Telomer length is a good marker of our biological age, which in itself gives a better indication about health and expected lifespan than our birth certificate does.

A telomer is like a candle wick. Each time you light the candle, the wick gets shorter. Similarly, the telomer is reduced in length every time the cell divides.

Lack of sleep affects telomer length, biological age, and cardiovascular system

Telomer length is affected by our genes and external factors like diet, exercise, and lifestyle. The Singapore researchers observed that the participants who got less than five hours of sleep per night tended to have shorter telomers than those who got seven hours or more. Also, the participants that slept too little tended to have higher BMI and larger waist circumference, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Visceral (intra-abdominal) fat is very harmful because it triggers chronic inflammation and that can set the stage for atherosclerosis.
The new study, which is published in Communications Biology, indicates the importance of getting enough sleep.

  • Health experts estimate that 10-15 percent of the Danish population suffers from serious, long-term sleep problems.
  • There is even a large grey zone of people that generally sleep too little.

Melatonin’s role in sleep

Melatonin is a signaling substance that is important for sleep, the body’s 24-hour clock, and a number of physiological processes. Melatonin is produced in the small pineal gland that is situated in the center of the brain. There is a direct nerve connection from the eye to the pineal gland. Exposure to light triggers the body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects us in various ways when we are awake. Helped by enzyme processes, serotonin is converted into melatonin after nightfall. Daylight affects our serotonin production, while darkness causes us to produce melatonin that makes us feel drowsy and helps us go to sleep and dream. It is therefore always best to sleep in a completely dark room.
In addition, melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that helps repair cell damage during our sleep. Melatonin is a unique molecule that affects nearly all physiological processes related to energy turnover, the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the hormone system, and the immune system.

  • Morning light is blue and signals us to be alert and active.
  • Evening light is reddish and signals us to produce melatonin and go to sleep.

The body needs a regular rhythm

We should ideally sleep around eight hours every single night. What is more important, however, is that you sleep properly and wake up feeling properly rested and recharged – physically and mentally. There is even a large grey zone of people who just sleep poorly or don’t sleep enough. Lack of sleep and the disruption of the cells’ 24-hour clock can affect your mood and increase the risk of many diseases. Cells are highly dependent of a regular rhythm that follows the astronomical day.

In the short run, too little sleep increases your risk of:

  • Fatigue and bad mood
  • Decreased performance
  • Accidents
  • A craving for sweets and stimulants
  • Digestive problems
  • Impaired immunity

In the long run, too little sleep increases your risk of:

  • Faster ageing and reduced telomer length
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Overweight and type 2 diabetes
  • Depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cancer

The body’s melatonin synthesis

Melatonin levels in the blood normally go up after nightfall and peak between 2:00 and 3:00 am. With age, the pineal gland becomes calcified and produces less and less melatonin. At 60 years of age, the body’s melatonin production will have dropped by 50% compared with age 20. Menopause also drastically reduces the melatonin production.
Evidence points to the reduced melatonin production as a cause of poor sleep quality. There are even factors around us that can interfere with our natural melatonin synthesis such as:

  • Too little daylight
  • Exaggerated light exposure at night – especially blue light from TVs, smartphones, computer screens and energy-saving light bulbs
  • Stress
  • Night shift work and shift work in general
  • Trans-Atlantic traveling where you get jet lag from crossing different time zones by plane
  • Coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and other stimulants
  • Sleeping pills and other sedatives
  • Electrosmog from cell phones, TV, Wi-Fi-routers, transmission towers etc.
  • Lack of the amino acid tryptophan, B vitamins and magnesium

Melatonin is a natural sleeping pill

The best way to get a good night’s sleep is to get to bed early. That way, you can wake up feeling rested, when the alarm goes off or when you wake up by yourself. If, however, you have difficulty with falling asleep or sleep poorly, a melatonin supplement is a perfect way to address the problem. It is vital to eat a healthy diet and to avoid stress, stimulants, excessive light exposure and other things that can interfere with the body’s melatonin production. A melatonin supplement is also a convenient shortcut to better sleep because it compensates for the melatonin shortage regardless of the underlying cause (too much light exposure, old age, night shifts, jet lag, etc.). By taking a melatonin supplement, you trick the body into believing it is night, even if this is not the case. That way, melatonin can induce natural sleep, which is essential for your health and mood.
Most melatonin tablets contain 2-3 mg of melatonin. The normal dosage is 1 tablet daily taken an hour before bedtime, unless directed otherwise
It is also important to have a regular day-night rhythm, which is different for early birds and night owls.

Useful advice for better sleep

  • Get plenty of daylight and exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet and make sure to get enough tryptophan, B vitamins, and magnesium
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages such as coffee, black tea, and Coco-Cola after 3:00 pm
  • Relax an hour before you go to bed
  • Avoid altogether or limit your exposure to LED light from energy-saving light bulbs, smartphones, and electronic devices because of their blue light emission
  • Use yellow glasses that block out the blue light. This prevents your melatonin production from being disrupted
  • If your phone has a blue light filter, activate this function if you use your phone at night
  • Avoid electrosmog and switch off sources of electrosmog at night
  • Sleep in a completely dark room. Use an eye mask or blackout curtains/blinds
  • Use ear plugs to eliminate noise
  • Take a melatonin supplement one hour before bedtime

References:

James Ives: Chronic sleep deprivation linked to increased biological aging and cardiovascular disease risk. News Medical Life Sciences. 2019.

Samir Malhorta et al. The Therapeutic Potential of Melatonin: A Review of the Science. Medscape January 10, 2019

Hanne Kokkegård. Døgnrytmens mekanik udløser Nobelprisen i fysiologi. Ingeniøren okt. 2017

Det sundhedsvidenskabelige Fakultet: Science hædrer professor Maiken Nedergaard for ”Årets Artikel”. 2015

Dun Xian Tan. Pineal Calcification, melatonin Production, Aging, Associated Health Consequences and Rejuvenation of the Pineal Gland. Molecules 2018

Rasmus Kragh Jacobsen. Elektrisk lys og skærmtid ødelægger søvnen og skader helbredet. Videnskab.dk 2013

Vinter, Anna Gry, Mogens Helweg Claësson: Melatonins indvirkning på immunsystem og cancer. Ugeskrift for Læger 2015

Pierpaoli Walter, Regelson William. The Melatonin Miracle. Simon and Schuster 1996

Anette Harbech Olesen. Søvnhormonet Melatonin. Specialtrykkeriet Arco. 2019