Why Sleep Is So Essential For Longevity + How To Make Sure You're Getting Enough
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."
Why 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.
Research is finding that it also plays an essential role in heart health. 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.
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 be a barrier to longevity. 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 like magnesium glycinate.* 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.
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.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.