When I was a little boy, I used to spend weekends at my grandparents’ farm in Kentucky.
It was one of my favorite places to be. My siblings and I would work and play outside all day long. Then at night we’d fall into our beds exhausted.
But sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night. And I’d go downstairs only to find my grandmother wide awake and working. When I asked her what she was still doing up, she told me that it was normal for older people to sleep less.
Today, even most doctors have bought into this myth. They’ll also tell you that there’s not a lot you can do about this “normal” part of growing older.
But here’s the truth… It’s not normal. In fact, too little sleep is a direct cause of aging.
An important study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that just one night of bad sleep is enough to make older adults age faster.
Researchers studied 29 adults aged 61 to 86 for a four-night period. Not only did they analyze their sleep patterns, they took a blood sample every morning to determine what changes occurred on a cellular level.
The results showed that even one night of poor sleep caused DNA damage consistent with faster biological aging.1
For a long time, we didn’t understand how lack of sleep could age us so much.
But now we do. And it’s all connected to your telomeres. Those are the little caps on the ends of each of your chromosomes that control how quickly you age.
Each time your cells divide, these telomeres get a little shorter and your cells get closer to the end of their life. Short telomeres are also associated with most of the chronic diseases we associate with aging… from cancer to heart disease.
But studies show a good night’s sleep helps keep your telomeres longer.
Harvard researchers measured telomere length in 4,117 women. Compared with women who got the most sleep, those who slept six hours or less per night had a 12% decrease in their telomere length. That change was equivalent to NINE YEARS of biological aging!2
One of the ways in which sleep protects your telomeres is by neutralizing the damaging effects of cortisol, the stress hormone.
As you deal with stress all day, your levels of the hormone cortisol skyrocket. And those high cortisol levels erode the length of your telomeres.3 Cortisol also sabotages telomerase, the enzyme that rebuilds your telomeres.
But it’s not just daytime stress that spikes cortisol. Losing just a few hours of sleep at night also increases your stress hormone. In one study, volunteers who lost sleep from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. saw their cortisol levels shoot up by a massive 37%.4
To help my patients get rid of stress and fall asleep faster, I recommend ashwagandha. It’s been used for 6,000 years in the traditional Indian medical system of Ayurveda.
And today’s research proves it works…
In a randomized study from India, researchers followed 64 people with a history of chronic stress and insomnia.5 Twice a day, half the group took 300 mg of ashwagandha. The other half got a placebo.
After two months, the ashwagandha group reduced their cortisol levels by 28%. They also reported that on average they had:
- 44% less stress
- 76% fewer physical symptoms of stress
- 70% less insomnia
Ashwagandha is available in powders, capsules, tablets or extracts.
My favorite way to use this herb is as a warming drink just before bed. I like to mix ¼ teaspoon up to a full teaspoon of the powder with a cup of warm milk and a teaspoon of honey. Drink a cup just before bed. You can also drink another cup during the day.
You can also take it in a tablet or capsule form. I recommend taking 300 mg to 500 mg twice a day to gently induce a restful sleep.
Try My Simple Seaweed Soup Recipe to Stay Healthy Longer
Here are two more all-natural sleep aids I recommend to my patients:
- Take the right amount of melatonin. Melatonin is a proven sleep inducer. But most Americans take way too much. All you need is a dose as 300 mcg — not the 3 mg to 5 mg most supplements recommend. But how you take it is just as important. When you take melatonin by mouth, it breaks down in the liver. Most of it never gets into your bloodstream. So it’s important to use a spray, drops, or a sublingual tablet. They’re easier to absorb and work faster.
- Try some Jamaican dogwood extract. The leaves and bark of the Jamaican dogwood tree have long been used in the tropics to relieve pain like headaches and toothaches, but also as a treatment for insomnia and anxiety. All you need is 10 mg a night.
- Increase your thiamine intake. You might know it better as vitamin B1. It’s well-known for supporting healthy circulation in the brain. But studies show thiamine improves sleep patterns when you have enough. The best food sources are organ meats, peas, pork, beans and sunflower seeds. To regulate sleep, I recommend 40 mg a day.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1. Carroll JE, et al. “Partial sleep deprivation activates the DNA damage response (DDR) and the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP) in aged adult humans.” Brain Behav Immun. 2016;51:223-229.
2. Liang G, et al. “Associations between rotating night shifts, sleep duration, and telomere length in women.” PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e23462.
3. Starkweather AR, et al. “An intergrative review of factors associated with telomere length and implications for Biobehavioral Research.” Nurs Res. 2014;63(1):36-50.
4. Leproult R, et al. “Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening.” Sleep. 1997;20(10):865-870.
5. Chandrasekhar K, et al. “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.” Indian Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255-262.