I talk to my patients about the danger of not sleeping all the time. Unfortunately, it’s a common problem that affects 75 million Americans.
People who don’t sleep, or sleep poorly, have up to 400% more accidents that those who get a good night’s rest. Not getting enough sleep also increases your risk of developing chronic diseases.
Studies, including a large meta-analysis of 470,000 adults, found that those who slept less than six hours developed a:1,2,3,4,5
- 48% increase in the incidence of coronary heart disease
- 30% increased risk of dementia
- 15% increase in the incidence of stroke
- 50% cancer risk
- 17% higher risk of diabetes
- 95% increase in depression
- 750% higher risk of obesity
The reason for such a dramatic increase in the risk of so developing diseases is that too little sleep is linked to increased cellular aging at the DNA level – including injury and dysfunction to cells, including heightened cell death, increased cell proliferation, and increased risk for cell replication errors.6
In fact, 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.7
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 9 years of biological aging!8
Of course, the last thing you want to do is turn to one of Big Pharma’s sleep pills… especially the latest insomnia drug fast-tracked by the FDA.
This new class of sleeping pills is known as dual orexin receptor antagonists (DORA).
These drugs were marketed as better than other kinds of insomnia medications because they didn’t cause sleepiness, confusion, or cognitive impairment the next day.
But the exact opposite is true.
In a new study of the drug, researchers found that volunteers who took a DORA felt so drowsy the next day they had to stop driving immediately.9
Others reported getting into an accident.
An additional number of study participants reported hallucinations or sleep paralysis — a feeling that you can’t move or talk while either falling asleep or waking up.
And here’s the real kicker… Not one person got a substantially better night’s sleep after taking the pill. In fact, study volunteers who took the drug every night for three months fell asleep just six minutes faster than those who got a placebo.10
And they only slept 16 minutes more.
2 all-natural sleep aids to try tonight
- L-tryptophan. A lot of people who successfully used this amino acid to help them sleep were forced to stop taking it in 1990 when the FDA banned it for no good reason. The agency erroneously linked the supplement to eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, a rare muscle and nerve disorder.But the breakout had nothing to do with the supplement. Instead, it was the result of one company’s contamination during manufacturing. Sadly, to this day, I still have patients who believe they can’t take it.Yet it’s one of the most effective natural sleep aids I know of. Your body uses it to help make melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle, and serotonin helps regulate appetite, mood, pain, and sleep.
I suggest a starting dose of 250 mg half an hour before bedtime. If that doesn’t produce good quality sleep, increase the dose to 500 mg. You can enhance its effect by taking it with a glass of warm milk.
This amino acid found in sleep-inducing foods such as milk and turkey converts to serotonin in your brain. I use a starting dose of 250 mg half an hour before bedtime. If that doesn’t produce good quality sleep, increase the dose to 500 mg. You can enhance its effect by taking it with a glass of warm milk.
- Magnesium. This mineral enhances the effects of tryptophan. And many people diagnosed with various sleeping disorders — including unconscious wakefulness — are deficient in magnesium.I call magnesium nature’s all-natural, non-addictive stress reliever and tranquilizer. Studies have shown that magnesium is a powerful weapon against insomnia and waking up from restless leg syndrome.11,12Magnesium levels in our modern diet have plummeted. A hundred years ago, most Americans consumed more than 400 mg of magnesium per day, thanks to vegetables grown in nutrient-rich soil. Today, the average intake of magnesium is less than 200 mg a day.
You can get magnesium by eating nuts, seeds, dairy, and dark green, leafy vegetables. But I also recommend supplementing with 1,000 mg a day. The most absorbable forms are magnesium citrate, glycinate taurate, or aspartate. Take it with vitamin B6 to increase the amount of magnesium that accumulates in your cells.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
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12. Hornyak M , et al. “Magnesium therapy for periodic leg movements-related insomnia and restless legs syndrome: an open pilot study. Sleep. 1998;21(5):501-505.