A sleepless night can add years to your face.
Your mirror gives away just how bad your night was. You see dark circles, hollow eyes, and sunken cheeks. Your skin sags. Yesterday’s fine lines are today’s deep wrinkles.
For many years science has been trying to explain why “beauty rest” is so important. But the explanations just scratched the surface.
Now anti-aging research is beginning to explain what lack of sleep does deep down at the level of your DNA.
It’s all about your telomeres.
You might already know a little about telomeres. They’re the little caps on the end of each strand of your DNA. And they control how fast you age.
Each time your cells divide, telomeres get a little shorter. Your cells get closer to the end of their life and act older.
When this happens in your skin cells, it means fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and drying skin. Everything starts to sag. You start to look older.
What does this have to do with sleep?
Lack of sleep shortens telomeres.
Lose enough sleep, and it can make you look and feel almost a decade older.
Harvard researchers have shown that getting enough sleep leads to longer, more youthful telomeres.
They measured telomere length in 4,117 women in the Nurses’ Health Study. Compared to women who got the most sleep, those who slept 6 hours or less per night had a 12% decrease in their telomere length.
That change was equivalent to 9 years of cellular aging.1
And it’s not just how many hours you sleep. Another study showed that women between 49 and 66 years old who had poor sleep quality had shorter telomere lengths.2
How exactly does sleep affect your telomeres? It has to do with the hormone melatonin. It helps control your sleep and waking cycle. The more melatonin you have the better you sleep.
And the more you sleep the longer your telomeres.3 That means more youthful cells and a younger looking appearance.
How To Get Better “Beauty Rest”
Getting 7 to 9 hours of solid sleep every night should be the foundation of your anti-aging beauty regimen. And to get enough good quality sleep, it’s important to boost your melatonin levels.
You see, your body produces melatonin naturally. Your pineal gland stimulates production as the sun sets and lights dim.
But melatonin production drops with age. Levels can also drop when you’re stressed or take beta blockers, aspirin, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
There are some simple things you can do to counteract these influences and keep your melatonin levels up.
1. Spend time outdoors each day in natural sunlight. This triggers melatonin to help you fall asleep and sleep even more deeply at the proper time each night.
2. Eat melatonin-rich foods. Tropical fruits help boost melatonin. Pineapples have been shown to increase blood levels by 266%. Bananas boost it by 180% and oranges by 47%. 4
Also, tart cherries contain up to 13.5 nanograms (ng) of melatonin per gram. That’s more than the level usually found in the bloodstream.5 Drinking tart cherry juice from Montmorency cherries (Prunus cerasus) for just seven days has been found to increase sleep by an average of 34 minutes a night. It also sped up falling to sleep and increased sleep efficiency by 5-6%.6
Other foods that naturally increase melatonin include ginger, tomatoes, mangosteen and barley.
3. Keep your room dark. Any light at all, no matter how little, can disrupt the production of melatonin. Make sure you don’t leave the TV on in your bedroom. And get rid of the night light. If you can’t get your room completely dark, wear a sleep mask.
4. Get the right dose of melatonin. Many doctors and health experts recommend about 3 mg a day for treatment and around 500 micrograms for prevention. But to help lengthen your telomeres, you need a much larger dose.
At my Wellness center, we now recommend patients take 10 mg of melatonin daily to kick-start telomere protection. Even though it’s a much larger dosage than you’ll hear most doctors recommend (because they have no idea of its effect on your telomeres), it’s completely safe.
I suggest you look for a spray, drops, or a sublingual that melts under your tongue. It’s easier to absorb and works fast. Take it 20 minutes before you want to fall asleep.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
1. Liang G, Schernhammer E, Qi L, Gao X, De Vivo I, Han J., “Associations between rotating night shifts, sleep duration, and telomere length in women.” PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e23462. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023462. PMID: 21853136
2. Prather AA, Puterman E, Lin J, O’Donovan A, Krauss J, Tomiyama AJ, Epel ES, Blackburn EH, “Shorter leukocyte telomere length in midlife women with poor sleep quality.” J Aging Res. 2011:721390. doi: 10.4061/2011/721390. PMID: 22046530
3. Aeschbach D, Sher L, Postolache TT, Matthews JR, Jackson MA, et al. “A longer biological night in long sleepers than in short sleepers.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003;88:26–30.
4. Johns NP, Johns J, Porasuphatana S, Plaimee P, Sae-Teaw M. “Dietary intake of melatonin from tropical fruit altered urinary excretion of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin in healthy volunteers.” J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Jan 30;61(4):913-9.
5. Burkhardt S, Tan DX, Manchester LC, Hardeland R, Reiter RJ. Detection and quantification of the antioxidant melatonin in Montmorency and Balaton tart cherries (Prunus cerasus). J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Oct;49(10):4898-902.
6. Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J. “Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality.” Eur J Nutr. 2012 Dec;51(8):909-16.