The new scientific buzzword in longevity and health is telomeres and quality sleep is an important part of keeping them healthy. Telomeres are the compound structure at the end of a chromosome covered by a protective cap –they protect your DNA. The length of your telomeres is an important factor in the aging process. The shorter your telomeres, the worse your cellular aging regardless of your chronological age. Shorter telomere length has been associated with chronic disease from diabetes to heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Telomeres and sleep are linked in several ways. First, inflammation is a consequence of sleep deprivation and the more inflammation in the body, the shorter your telomeres will become. Also, lack of sleep is associated with decreased melatonin, a critical antioxidant. Poor sleep quality creates oxidation, therefore damaging the telomeres. There have been many studies showing that melatonin’s antioxidant power prevents telomeres from diminishing. More sleep means more melatonin, less inflammation and therefore longer telomeres.
In recent years there has been study after study that have show that people who sleep less than seven hours a night, as well as people suffering from sleep apnea, had shorter telomere length. The recent Nurses Health Study of 4,117 women found that women under the age of fifty who slept less than six hours per night had significantly shorter telomeres than women who slept at least nine hours.
These studies are groundbreaking and are making it clear that not getting enough quality sleep may not only accelerate the aging process but make you more susceptible to chronic disease. All the more reason to diagnose any disorders, practice good sleep hygiene and make sleep a priority.