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Why Sleep Is So Essential For Longevity + How To Make Sure You're Getting Enough

Author:
August 13, 2023
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
older woman basking in the sun
Image by Alba Vitta / Stocksy
August 13, 2023
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When centenarians share the tips that have carried them into old age, their lists usually include eating habits, exercise routines, and other habits done in the daylight. But according to Seema Bonney, M.D., the founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia, what happens at night is just as important.

"If there's any one positive thing we can do in terms of slowing down the aging process, sleep is really up there," Bonney tells mbg. "It's something you need to optimize in order to improve your healthspan, and therefore your lifespan."

We can't talk about longevity without talking about sleep

While sleep may feel like a passive process, it actually sets off a flurry of beneficial biological activity. As we snooze, our brains clear out abnormal proteins, our pituitary glands release hormones that help the body grow and repair, and our immune systems go into defend-and-protect mode.

Thanks to all this work happening behind the scenes, sleep can help with things like weight maintenance1, blood sugar control2, and cognitive function3 over time. And new research adds heart health benefits to the already impressive list. Just this summer, Bonney notes, the American Heart Association added healthy sleep as one of the eight most important factors4 for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health.

I hear so many people say things like, 'I'll sleep when I'm dead.' And the truth is, you will be dead sooner if you don't sleep.

Sleep is also intricately linked to immunity and the ability to stave off pathogens. "There have been so many studies5 that clearly document how optimization of sleep and sleep hygiene is really vital to keeping your immune system healthy," Bonney explains.

All in all, decades of research6 tell us that trying to get away with too little (or too much!) sleep will work against longevity goals. And yet, Bonney sees people do it all the time. "I hear so many people say things like, 'I'll sleep when I'm dead,'" she says. "And the truth is, you will be dead sooner if you don't sleep."

How to sleep your way to a longer life

Sleep is personal, and sleep needs will vary from one snoozer to the next. That being said, 7-9 hours a night7 is generally considered a good window for promoting quality of life. Interestingly enough, though, it's not just the amount of time you spend in bed that matters. You also need to make sure your sleep quality is up to par and you're spending enough time in deep sleep every night. (Here's a deep dive into why that's so critical.)

"Studies also show8 that people who had higher longevity had more strict, consistent sleep and wake schedules," Bonney adds, meaning that long-lived people tend to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.

It's safe to say that we all want to live long, healthy lives—but we're certainly not all consistently clocking awesome sleep9 within the exact same time window. But just remember that one night of poor sleep won't totally derail your healthspan, just like one missed workout won't sabotage your fitness goals or a processed meal won't ruin your gut microbiome. It's about progress, not perfection, and Bonney notes that it's never too late to get started prioritizing sleep a bit more. After all, it remains important throughout our entire lives.

Some of her favorite tips for achieving deep, consistent sleep night after night include turning off electronics at least an hour before bed, making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and taking a sleep-promoting supplement. Other ways to promote restorative rest include reducing caffeine intake, prioritizing gut health, getting more sunlight during the day, and doing just about anything on this sleep hygiene checklist.

The takeaway

Rest is essential not just for short-term sanity, but for long-term health maintenance. As far as longevity is concerned, getting deep and consistent sleep is one of the best ways to tee up a long and healthy (not to mention, well-rested) life.

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