How often have you woken up feeling sluggish, irritable, or just straight-up forgetful after a night of tossing and turning, contemplating, and middle of night To-Do list-making? Yeah, we’ve been there too.
Unfortunately, insufficient sleep can ultimately affect life expectancy and day-to-day well-being. An analysis of data from three studies suggests that sleeping five or fewer hours per night may increase mortality risk by as much as 15 percent. Whoa!
We like to think of sleep as the Great Restorer, and it’s a part of optimal health and longevity that is often overlooked, especially in this never-rest, hustle-harder culture of ours!
Your body on sleep:
In this hustle-harder, go-go-go culture, it can be easy to relegate sleep to the sidelines. But, it might be time to rethink that practice.
Sleep is not just a luxury or an indulgence; it is a fundamental biological necessity the human body requires to function correctly. In particular, sleep plays a critical role in the brain’s functioning and overall health, as well as in the regulation of stress hormones. By depriving yourself of sleep, you risk experiencing various health problems, including cognitive decline, depression, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
The brain is one of the most important organs affected by sleep, and it requires adequate rest to perform its many functions. Research has shown that while we sleep, the brain processes and consolidates the information you learned during the day. This is critical for memory consolidation and learning, as it helps you to better recall and access information when you need it. Furthermore, sleep is essential for maintaining overall brain health, and chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia (Mander et al., 2017). Moreover, sleep loss has also been linked to increased susceptibility to depression (Baglioni et al., 2016).
In addition to its impact on the brain, sleep also plays a vital role in regulating stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of these hormones, which can contribute to a wide range of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (McEwen & Karatsoreos, 2015). Studies have found that individuals who get regular, high-quality sleep have lower levels of stress hormones and a reduced risk of developing these conditions (Taheri et al., 2011).
In conclusion, sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, and you should prioritize it as much as you prioritize exercise and healthy eating. Adequate sleep is critical for your brain’s functioning and overall health, as well as the regulation of stress hormones. To maintain good health, it is recommended that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night (Hirshkowitz et al., 2015). By prioritizing sleep, you can help ensure that your body and mind function at their best and that you stay healthy and happy for years to come.
How to get better sleep:
Now that you know how important sleep is for overall health and longevity, let’s talk about how to sleep better. To promote better sleep, it’s essential to create a comfortable sleep environment. This includes keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool and using comfortable bedding. Additionally, it’s crucial to avoid screens for at least an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted by electronic devices can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
It’s also essential to create a consistent sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This will help regulate your body’s internal clock and make falling and staying asleep easier.
Lastly, avoiding certain behaviors that can sabotage your sleep is helpful. This includes consuming caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime, as well as eating a heavy meal before going to bed.
Below are three Action Steps you can implement today to get your sleep routine back on track. If you’re feeling extra motivated, add in some of our “Lightning Strikes” to power up your night of slumber.
- Avoid eating or drinking 2 hours before bed and turn off all screens (phone, tv, iPad) one hour before bed.
- Do not drink caffeine after 3 pm (earlier if you are very sensitive to it), and don’t drink more than one alcoholic drink in the evenings.
- Make your bedroom dark and cool (about 68 degrees is ideal).
- Get a sleep mask that you can take with you when traveling or when you can’t control the room’s darkness. Dr. Amy’s favorite is the SleepMaster mask.
- Take a warm bath or do a sauna or hot tub before bed to get your body nice and toasty.
- Consider tracking your sleep with a sleep tracker such as an Oura ring, Whoop band, or Apple watch. Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Start tracking things you do before bed that might impact the quality of your sleep.
In conclusion, sleep is essential for overall health and longevity. By creating a comfortable sleep environment, sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, and avoiding behaviors that can sabotage your sleep, you can improve the quality of your sleep and promote overall health and well-being.
Remember, aging gratefully starts with caring for yourself today, including creating comfort in change and prioritizing your sleep. So…what are you waiting for – get to bed!
By Amy Killen, MD
Baglioni, C., Nanovska, S., Regen, W., Spiegelhalder, K., Feige, B., Nissen, C., … Riemann, D. (2016). Sleep and mental disorders: A meta-analysis of polysomnographic research. Psychological Bulletin, 142(9), 969–990. doi: 10.1037/bul0000053
Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S. M., Alessi, C., Bruni, O., DonCarlos, L., … Adams Hillard, P. J. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: Methodology and results summary. Sleep Health, 1(1), 40-43. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2014.12.010
Mander, B. A., Winer, J. R., & Walker, M. P. (2017). Sleep and human aging. Neuron, 94(1), 19–36. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.02.004
McEwen, B. S., & Karatsoreos, I. N. (2015). Sleep deprivation and circadian disruption: Stress, allostasis, and allostatic load. Sleep Medicine Clinics, 10(1), 1–10. doi: 10.1016/j.jsmc.2014.11.007