4 Healthy Sleep Habits That Can Help You Live Longer
According to new research, eight per cent of premature deaths could be a result of poor sleep. A sleep doctor shares his simple tips to ensure you're getting the most out of your sleep—and your life.
Why Healthy Sleep Habits Matter
You’ve heard there are reasons you need to prioritize sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep can boost your brain health, reduce stress and even make you look better. Now, according to new research, sleep can also increase your longevity.
The research was announced in March 2023 at the American College of Cardiology‘s Annual Scientific Session together with the World Congress of Cardiology, suggesting that healthy sleep habits play an incremental role in living longer. The researchers reported that eight per cent of deaths from any cause could be attributed to poor-quality sleep.
So what does it take to have restful sleep night after night? We spoke with Boston-based sleep doctor Po-Chang Hsu MD, MS, at SleepingOcean, about the healthy sleep habits you can adopt for a potentially longer life—and an undoubtedly happier one.
Going to bed and waking up around the same time
When the sun sets and the day comes to a close, your “internal clock” alerts your body to start winding down, boosting melatonin levels to help you naturally fall asleep—also known as the circadian rhythm. Shifts in this natural cycle can cause circadian rhythm disorder, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night, which can in turn affect longevity.
“Keeping a consistent schedule can help one’s circadian clock run smoothly,” says Dr. Hsu. “This means stable sleep patterns and improved slumber quality, which leads to longevity.”
Dr. Hsu points specifically to a 2014 study in Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience, which concluded three major factors where sleep was linked with the longevity of individuals: The maintenance of slow wave sleep (the deepest phase of sleep) in older individuals, the occurrence of favourable lipid profile (more commonly known as cholesterol levels), and strict regular sleep patterns.
Here’s expert advice on how to fix your sleep schedule.
Changing the light bulbs in your bedroom
Yes, the lightbulbs in your room can play a part in your regular sleep cycle. Warmer tones tend to be best for signalling the brain to wind down, versus harsher, cooler tones.
“Ideal sleep-inducing lighting is warm—auburn, for example,” says Dr. Hsu. (To envision it, imagine the glow a candle gives off.) “It signals the brain that it’s time to wind down and prepare for slumber, helping people fall asleep more easily. That’s why I always recommend changing the light bulbs in the bedroom to warm ones. It’s also a good idea to dim the lights around the house a few hours before bed.”
The natural lighting and dimming of lights during the day mimic the lighting of the sun. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), this mimicked rhythm is what the circadian rhythm takes its cues from. Light from the sun signals for your body to be awake, while dark signals for your body to get some rest.
One solution for dimming the lights is to set the lights on a timer. Smart lightbulbs or timer outlets can make it easy for creating specific settings around the home, creating a natural dimming of your lights as your body’s internal clock starts to wind down.
Follow our ultimate sleep hygiene checklist.
“Meditation is often considered boring, but this relaxation technique can do wonders for one’s sleep,” Dr. Hsu says. “Meditation is believed to help people fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper, more restorative slumber. I recommend starting with guided meditation, as it’s easier to focus on.”
Many studies back up Dr. Hsu’s recommendation. A 2019 review published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences analyzed a number of reliable past trials to conclude that meditation can be effective in treating some aspects of sleep disturbance. The Sleep Foundation points out the importance of sleep meditation in mind-body therapy, helping the body to relax and prepare for rest thanks to different pathways including slowed breathing, calmed stress pathways, improved mental outlook, and better managing pain.
Plus, in 2019 Psychology Today covered research on how a “quieting” of the brain can reduce neural activity to help promote health and improve lifespan potential.
Here’s what could happen when you start meditating every day.
Journalling before bed
While it can be rather tempting to lay in bed and scroll on the phone, the blue light on your screen isn’t doing your circadian rhythm any favours. Instead, winding down by writing in a journal—maybe even with a cup of valerian root tea—could be beneficial, naturally calming the brain by decreasing stress and preparing for sleep.
“I find this evening ritual very helpful regarding stress and anxious thoughts,” says Dr. Hsu. “Journalling helps take those thoughts out of the brain and put them on paper, alleviating the related anxiety. This naturally leads to improved sleep quality.”
Next, find out why you should always read before bed.