Your Bag (0)



    The Relationship Between Good Sleep & Longevity

      |  Aug 03, 2022

    Why Sleep Matters

    When you think of living a long life, sleep might not be the first thing that comes to mind. In actuality, though, sleep is the foundation on which all mental and physical health is built. That's because the nightly process of sleep is imperative for the body to function at its best. Being in dreamland allows our bodies to perform several necessary biological processes involving the brain, heart, hormones—everything.

    Take the brain, for instance. It doesn't shut down when you sleep. Instead, it sorts and stores information picked up from the day prior, helping to create long-term memories. Through dreaming, it helps process emotional events—serving, in a way, as a nightly therapy session. Recent research finds that sleep increases brain activity in areas associated with emotional regulation (which may explain why you feel more irritable and prone to stress when you're overly tired). Simultaneously, the brain's glymphatic system clears waste, such as toxic proteins associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's, from the central nervous system. 

    And that's all happening while the mind is at "rest." Simultaneously, every system and organ in your body is working to refresh, renew, and repair on a molecular level. That's why being well-rested feels so terrific—it truly is as though you've woken up a new person. 

    Conversely, as anyone who's ever binged Netflix until 3 a.m. or parented a newborn knows, a lousy night of sleep can make you feel sluggish, moody, clumsy, and… wait, what were we talking about again? Oh yes: unfocused. In fact, sleeping less than seven hours per 24-hour period can slow down your response level to a rate equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of .05%. When your sleep suffers, so does everything else—in the long term, too.

    Sleep Better Tonight, Age Better Tomorrow

    Research finds that sleep is closely connected to living a longer life. In fact, getting the right kind of sleep (and enough of it) sets the stage for a healthier lifestyle overall. One study of elderly people living in Okinawa, a Japanese prefecture famed for its residents' exceptional longevity, found that good sleepers were more likely to have healthy eating and exercise habits. Additionally, they were more likely to experience high morale and have strong social connections. 

    Among the chronically sleep-deprived, however, the outlook is not as sunny. A host of health issues—heart disease, stroke, asthma, COPD, diabetes depression, and even arthritis—are significantly more prevalent among people who sleep poorly. In one study, getting less than six hours of sleep a night tripled the risk of death among people with heart disease or stroke. Another 22-year study of 21,000 twins found that sleeping less than seven hours nightly made people 21% to 26% more likely to die prematurely. 

    And it's not just about quantity, but about quality. Having just 5% less REM sleep (aka the deep, dream-filled kind of sleep) can increase your mortality risk by 13%. That's why it's so important to make every hour of ZZZ's count.

    What Counts as Good Sleep?

    Prioritizing sleep is one of the simplest and best things you can do for your health in the long and short terms. Unfortunately, not enough of us do it. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three American adults sleeps less than the recommended seven-hour minimum per night.  

    Not sure if you're snoozing sufficiently? If you zonk out as your head hits the pillow at night, that's a sign that you could use more shut-eye. Surprisingly, sleep experts say that falling asleep should take 10 to 20 minutes. (If drifting off regularly takes longer than that, it may be wise to talk with a doctor well-versed in treating sleep problems.) Once you're asleep, it's normal to cycle in and out of different types of sleep, and even to wake up briefly during the night. FYI, it's also normal to not remember your dreams, so if you can't recall last night's romp through your subconscious, don't lose any sleep over it.

    How to be a Star Sleeper

    With a bit of attention to your nightly routine, anyone can improve their sleep quality. Here's how to make your sleep as restful and restorative as possible—tonight and for the years to come.

    • Be Consistent: Encourage your body to welcome sleep by going to bed at the same time each night. In turn, that will make it easier to wake up around the same time each morning. 

    • Stash the Screens: The blue light from tech devices suppresses the body's production of melatonin, the so-called sleep hormone. Turn off screens at least an hour before heading to bed, and charge your phone in another room so your sleep isn't interrupted by every vibration and ding.

    • Be Mindful of Media Consumption: Remember how dreams help the brain process the day's information? That includes TV shows, movies, and books—all of which can invade your subconscious and influence your dreams. If you find yourself having nightmares about killer clowns, for instance, it may be best to enjoy Stephen King long before getting into bed. 

    • Catch a Catnap: Sleep doesn't always have to happen at night. A siesta can help top off your energy levels. But keep it on the short side: a study of septugenarians found that brief nappers processed information better than their longer-napping counterparts. 

    • Create Bedtime Rituals: The body's circadian rhythm naturally drives us to sleep when night falls, but you can support it by creating time-for-bed cues. For instance, using blackout curtains or a sleep mask can create a darker environment for better sleep. Another option: try an essential oil diffuser to help your mind associate a scent with sleep. (But don't use a scented candle, for obvious fire-hazard reasons.)

    • Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol: During the hours before bed, steer clear of caffeine and alcohol, both of which can make it harder to fall (and stay) asleep. As an alternative, try a non-caffeinated herbal tea or water. Oh, and as for that glass of warm milk that Mom used to recommend before bed? While milk does contain tryptophan and melatonin, two hormones conducive to sleep, the levels aren't high enough to make a difference.

    • Exercise: Getting regular exercise is a surefire way to get better sleep—science says so. One study found that athletes experience measurably superior sleep quality to non-athletes, but you don't need to be Serena Williams to reap the benefits of exercise. People who partake in moderate aerobic exercise (think brisk walking) experience a greater amount of deep, restorative sleep. You don't need to work out right before bed, and you can see results as soon as the same night you exercise. Better still? Regular exercise and sufficient sleep create a virtuous cycle.