The Best Kept Anti-Aging Secret: Healthy Sleep

Dr. Melissa Hess Hummel Internist Irmo, SC

Dr. Melissa Hummel is an internist practicing in Irmo, South Carolina. Dr. Hummel specializes in the medical treatment of adults. Internists can act as a primary physician or a consultant to a primary physician. They manage both common and rare diseases. Dr. Hummel provides comprehensive care and manages treatment with... more

It seems we are all searching for the fountain of youth these days. The media is full of advice on anti-aging, from what we should eat to the optimal time to start botox and facial filler treatment in order to look and feel healthier and younger. As a practicing physician with over ten years of experience in Internal Medicine, Sleep Medicine, and Aesthetics, I am asked these questions on a daily basis. 

However, rather than cover this ever-growing topic, I am going to touch on something basic that we do every day. Many of us do it poorly, and may underestimate its importance in our overall health and appearance. That is, of course, sleep. In a world full of stress, busy schedules, and electronics connecting us with everything and everyone, it should not be surprising that insomnia and associated disease is on the rise. People are doing things daily that contribute to poor sleep. Over time, this can lead to other chronic health problems, depression, and unhealthy immune systems that make you more susceptible to infection. 

If you are having trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, or not feeling well-rested in the morning, you may benefit from changing sleep habits. It is recommended that most people sleep 7-8 hours per night.  It is important to adhere to a specific bedtime and wake-up time as closely as possible.   

In general, you should go to bed when you feel sleepy, and not before. With the exception of sexual activity, you should avoid doing anything in the bedroom that you do while you are awake, such as reading, eating, watching TV, and using the phone or computer.  Never stay in bed at the beginning of the night or during the middle of the night for extended periods of time.  If you are unable fall asleep within 20 minutes of getting in bed, you should go into another room and do something relaxing, such as reading.  Avoid daytime napping, as this decreases the drive for sleep at night.   

Try to avoid worrying, mulling over problems, planning future events, or problem-solving while in bed.  It can be helpful to schedule a time each day to write your troubling thoughts down.  You should also avoid exercising late in the evening.  Avoid caffeine after 2pm, and nicotine after early evening as these are stimulants and can further disrupt sleep.  Do not use alcohol to put you to sleep. You may feel sleepy initially, but you may wake up as the alcohol level diminishes.   

Make sure your sleep environment is comfortable, quiet, and dark, with alarm clocks turned away so you cannot see the time.  Lastly, two hours before bedtime, try to tie up loose ends in your mind and wind down for the evening.   

Sleep is the fountain of youth and at the core of keeping us young and healthy.  One of the most important things you can do for optimal well-being is to make your sleep a priority.