Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment. It makes you live longer, look younger and feel better. It decreases your risk of heart disease, cancer, and dementia. It improves immune function and helps ward off colds and the flu.
What would you think if you saw that ad? Are you interested? Well, the breakthrough has already been discovered and it is called 8 hours of sleep every night! If you do even the slightest amount of research about promoting longevity you will quickly realize that adequate sleep is an absolute cornerstone for living long and healthy.
I used to be one of those “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” kind of guys and sleeping more than 6 hours felt like I was “wasting time”. I was constantly thinking about all the things I could get done with those extra 2 hours a day. Boy oh boy, there are probably few things I can safely say I have been more wrong about! No wonder I was always tired and felt like I was about to fall asleep after lunch! (As an aside, if your BMI is >40, you may have sleep apnea, a medical condition that will seriously interfere with your sleep. The good news is, bariatric surgery will cure sleep apnea well over 90% of the time).
I, on the other hand, was simply sleep depriving myself voluntarily(!) because I thought it was ‘more productive’. Truth be told, it was not very smart for a guy who has the letters “M” and “D” after his name! Adequate sleep is crucial for brain health, immune function, lowering cortisol (and stress) levels…the list goes on and on.
When we sleep our brain literally flushes itself out. Certain cells (glial cells) shrink overnight and so the fluid that surrounds our brain (Cerebro-spinal fluid) can get into all the ‘nooks and crannies’ of the brain and flush out all the cellular debris the built up during the day. Think of a city where every night all the cars are taken off the streets so the street cleaners can thoroughly clean every street every night…this is what happens in the brain at night…but we need the full 8 hours for it to happen completely.
Good sleep=healthy heart (and brain!), it is really just that simple. Adults over the age of 45 who routinely sleep less than 6 hours per night have a 200% higher risk of stroke or heart attack in their lifetimes. Short sleeping (less than 6 hours/night) has been shown to increase calorie consumption (by about 300 calories) the next day and most concerning tends to increase consumption of junk food and ‘empty calories’.
And, of course, in the “Age of Covid” we need to discuss immune function. The best way to improve your immune system is 8 hours of sleep every night! If you are going to get a vaccine (for the flu or Covid or any other disease) here is something you may want to know. A 2002 study showed that people who got 7-9 hours of sleep the week before receiving a flu vaccine generated more antibodies (50% on average) than those who were sleep restricted the week before getting immunized.
This obviously just scratches the surface of a deep subject, hopefully I’ve convinced you it’s worth a deeper dive. If so, I would recommend the book, “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker (in fact, I stole the fictitious ad you saw above from his book!) or he has a 19 minute Ted Talk here. A full night’s sleep really is the superpower we all have…if we want it!
By Dr. Michael Bilof
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