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Dozens of studies in recent years have left little doubt that chronic sleeplessness can make you old before your time. But new research suggests that even a single sleepless night can trigger accelerated aging in older adults.

Researchers from the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology monitored 29 participants ranging in age from 61 to 86 over a four-night period. Each participant was subjected to partial sleep deprivation during one of the nights. Their blood samples subsequently showed higher levels of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), an indication that genes related to cell damage had been activated. Such cell damage has been linked to premature aging.

“Our data support the hypothesis that one night of not getting enough sleep in older adults activates important biological pathways that promote biological aging,” lead study author Judith Carroll, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral science, said in a statement released by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

No matter how old you are, a good night’s sleep affects everything from brain function to your immune system. And it’s key to maintaining your vitality into your golden years. For some fresh tips on getting the most out of your daily shut-eye, see “Sleep Deficit” from our May 2015 issue.

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