We know sleep is crucial but how Does Sleep Improve Longevity? Discover the Secret to a Long and Healthy Our busy lives are often stressful and highly demanding, requiring us to wake early and undergo long days juggling work and personal life, especially if we have a young family. The importance of sleep should never be overlooked and always prioritised, but we know this is easier said than done.
Sleep is fundamental to a healthy and happy life. It is a time for the body to not just rest, but also carry out various processes that are essential for maintaining good mental and physical health. But does sleep improve longevity?
Here, we explain the importance of sleep and its potential impact on life expectancy. Plus, find out how long you should sleep each night for optimal health, learn about the link between sleep position and longevity, and follow our top tips to help you sleep soundly every night.
Why your body needs sleep
Sleep is a complex process that enables our bodies and minds to rejuvenate and repair themselves and is as essential for our health as eating and drinking. In fact you can go much longer without eating than you can without sleep. A good night’s slumber is particularly important for proper brain function because, during sleep, the brain restores itself and performs vital housekeeping tasks like consolidating memories, clearing out waste products, and balancing neurotransmitter levels to regulate mood and maintain emotional well-being.
Research has proven that without proper sleep, our brains cannot function effectively and we are more likely to feel stressed, in a bad mood and develop mental health problems.
Sleep also plays a role in regulating many different hormones in the body, including those responsible for appetite and metabolism, helping us maintain a healthy weight and blood sugar levels. Getting enough Z’s also supports a strong, healthy heart through the regulation of glucose metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation, all of which can affect the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
How does sleep affect longevity?
Multiple scientific studies have found that a lack of sleep can speed up the ageing process and increase the risk for a variety of serious health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. This is hardly surprising given the pivotal role sleep plays in regulating many aspects of our health including:
During sleep, the body produces and releases proteins called cytokines. These are essential for helping fight off infections, viruses, and other disease-causing germs. Not getting enough sleep at night means there are fewer of these friendly protective cytokines, resulting in a weakened immune system which makes you more susceptible to illnesses and diseases.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure), a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. One reason for this is that a prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt the body's natural rhythms, leading to an imbalance in stress hormones like cortisol, which elevates blood pressure.
Inflammation is a natural immune response that helps the body fight infections and heal injuries, put simply. However, when inflammation persists unnecessarily, immune cells start attacking normal healthy cells in the body, which increases the risk of various chronic conditions such as cancer. According to research, sleep deprivation is linked to increased inflammation in the body and a higher risk of developing inflammatory-related diseases.
During deep sleep, the body produces higher levels of growth hormones which support cell and tissue repair and muscle growth. This enables the body to function at optimal capacity and helps slow down the ageing process. Sleep also enables the body to repair dysfunctional immune cells and damaged DNA, reducing the risk of mutations that could lead to cancer and protecting against other diseases.
We’ve all experienced the effects of sleep deprivation at some point in our lives and will be familiar with the brain-dead walking zombie feeling. But a lack of sleep not only makes us feel sleepy it also impacts many aspects of brain function including learning, memory, problem-solving, creativity, decision-making, focus and concentration.
This is because during sleep, the brain recharges and processes and organises information acquired during the day. According to research, these cognitive processes are crucial for maintaining the brain’s normal function.
What’s more, sleep also plays a critical role in the removal of toxic waste products from the brain, which can cause harm to brain tissue and memory function and lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Do you age slower if you sleep more?
It is generally recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a day for a long, healthy life. Too little sleep, as discussed earlier, accelerates the ageing process and can negatively affect your physical and mental health. Equally, there is such a thing as too much sleep. Getting more than nine hours of sleep a night can also negatively affect health and reduce life expectancy.
Oversleeping, also known as hypersomnia, can leave you feeling groggy and fatigued, which is ironically similar to the effects of sleep deprivation. It disrupts the body's natural body clock and can lead to irregular sleep-wake cycles, causing difficulties in falling asleep or staying asleep at night. Studies have found that oversleeping can knock years off your life by increasing the risk of serious health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease - just like sleep deprivation. Plus, sleeping well into the daytime leaves little time for physical activity and can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which is known to have disastrous impacts on our health.
Is there a link between sleep position and longevity?
While there isn't necessarily a direct link between sleep position and longevity, there are some recommended positions that may promote better overall health and potentially contribute to a longer life.
Sleeping on your back is often considered one of the best positions, as it allows the head, neck, and spine to align naturally, reducing the risk of developing musculoskeletal issues. However, people with sleep apnea may find back sleeping unsuitable, as sleeping in this position increases the chances of snoring and waking up during the night. Not great for those of us sleeping next to partners.
Side sleeping has also been found to benefit health, as it supports the brain’s waste-removal process, helping lower the risk of dementia. Similarly, sleeping on your right side can benefit people with heart problems because it ensures your heart is supported in the chest cavity.
Essentially, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for sleep position and longevity, so try adopting a position that suits your individual health concerns and, most importantly, your ability to sleep well.
Tips to sleep better at night
If you struggle to get to sleep, you are not alone. We’re here to lend a helping hand with these practical tips to help you sleep better.
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, unfortunately.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine to signal your body that it's time to wind down.
- Make your sleep environment comfortable - we’re talking about comfortable mattresses and silky sheets that are breathable.
- Limit screen time before bed - If you have to, consider using blue light-blocking glasses.
- Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime.
- Caffeine and alcohol disrupt sleep patterns a lot, so if you are going to have them, take them in low quantities and stop drinking caffeine past lunchtime.
- Get regular exercise - This is proven to help you fall asleep quicker.
- Practice stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation or journaling.
- Avoid long naps, especially in the late afternoon or evening.
If you struggle to get to sleep, Try these techniques:
Try the 4-7-8 routine:
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
Count backward from 200
This technique is straightforward yet highly effective. Close your eyes and mentally count backward from 200. Alternatively, counting sheep can be a great way to bore yourself to sleep.
By focusing on something calming, you can prevent yourself from becoming too excited by thoughts of various activities.
Research indicates that merely thinking about an energetic activity, such as playing tennis, can raise your blood pressure. Opting for mundane and calming scenarios that do not involve physical movement is the most effective approach for relaxation.
Use the 2-minute technique
Originally developed by the US military to help jet pilots fall asleep quickly between missions. Follow these steps:
- Relax all the muscles in your face, including your tongue, jaw, and the muscles around your eyes.
- Let your shoulders drop as far down as they can go, followed by your upper and lower arms, one side at a time.
- Breathe out, relaxing your chest and then your legs, starting from the thighs and working down.
- Take 10 seconds to clear your mind before focusing on one of the following three images:
- Imagine yourself lying in a canoe on a serene lake with a clear blue sky above you.
- Picture yourself lying in a black velvet hammock in a completely dark room.
- Repeat the phrase 'don't think, don't think, don't think' to yourself for about 10 seconds.
Sleep should never take a backseat to your busy life. It is essential for good health and longevity as during sleep, our bodies and minds engage in important restorative processes. Striking a balance between too little and too much sleep is important, as both extremes can have negative effects on health.
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep a night to bolster your immune system, protect your cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, optimise brain health and support cellular repair, all of which help ward off disease and prolong your lifespan.
You should also ensure you sleep in the most suitable position for your individual health needs. Finally, for all the bad sleepers out there who struggle to switch off, follow our tips to help you sleep better. By focusing on improving your sleep, you can maximise the health of your mind and body so that you can live a longer, healthier and happier life.