There’s an easy, often misunderstood, activity that may be able extend your life expectancy.
All you have to do is get the right amount of sleep every night. Study after study, on subjects from cancer to dementia, shows that sleep is one of the most powerful “medicines” on the planet.
And, no, that doesn’t mean the more you sleep, the better. As a matter of fact, researchers have found that getting too much sleep may do you as much harm as getting too little.
The trick, when it comes to aging, is to sleep for just the right length of time.
Sleeping More or Less
A 14-year study at the University of San Diego shows that short sleepers and long sleepers tend to die younger than folks who have found the sweet spot in between – the Goldilocks “just right” amount of sleep.[i]
This research involved 459 women who ranged in age from 50 to 81 when the study started.
Among these women, those who slept 5 to 6 ½ hours each night lived the longest. The ones who slept less than 5 or more than 6.5 hours were more likely to have died during the study.
“This means that women who sleep as little as five to six-and-a-half hours have nothing to worry about (as far as dying younger) since that amount of sleep is evidently consistent with excellent survival,” says researcher Daniel Kripke, M.D. “That is actually about the average measured sleep duration for San Diego women.”
Sleep Boosts Your Immune System
Other research shows that no matter how long your usual night of sleep is, getting to bed and getting up in the morning at a consistent time helps your immunity. But if you vary from night to night, going to bed too late on some nights, changing the time you get up in the morning, or if you cut back on your usual sleep, your immune system may have a harder time keeping you healthy.
Irregular sleep habits can also increase the inflammation in your body – and inflammation can cause harmful aging changes to your organs. [ii]
For instance, to learn how getting too little sleep affects the body, researchers at the University of Washington analyzed blood samples from 11 pairs of identical twins, one of whom in each pair had a habit of sleeping very little. (They examined identical twins so genetic differences between the people they studied wouldn’t confound their results.)
Those who slept too little had immune systems that weren’t working very well.[iii]
Researcher Nathaniel Watson says this explains why, “… if you expose sleep deprived people to a rhinovirus [i.e. a common cold] they are more likely to get the virus. This study provides further evidence of the importance of sleep to overall health and well-being, particularly to immune health.”
Now I’m not going to recommend that you necessarily have to sleep exactly 5 to 6 ½ hours every night. I need between 7 and 8 hours a night to feel at my best. But research does confirm, certainly, that less than 5 hours nightly can put your immune system in the danger zone for inflammation and aging. Similarly, sleeping 9 hours a night or more is linked to serious heart issues.[iv]
Four Tips to Better Sleep
To give yourself a better chance at a good night’s sleep
- Don’t stare at phone or computer screens late in the evening. Their blue light stimulates the brain and hinders sleep.
- Eat foods like onions, raw garlic or unripe bananas containing prebiotic fiber – it feeds intestinal probiotic bacteria and helps you sleep better.[v]
- Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. All those little lights on computers, televisions and other devices – cover them up. If necessary, wear an eye mask.
- Try the herb ashwagandha as a sleep aid if you have trouble sleeping. Natural substances in this herb improve sleep. Chamomile is also helpful for many people. A product called Napz, available in many stores, contains an herbal sleep formula consisting of passionflower, chamomile, hibiscus and lemon balm.