Early to bed and early to rise makes a man (or woman) healthy, wealthy and wise. All of us have heard this mantra at one time or another.
So it’s a bit ironic that so many people don’t get a good night’s sleep.
While occasional bouts of insomnia are common, real medical problems can develop when you miss too much sleep.
Numerous studies have linked sleep deprivation to a host of debilitating health effects.
Some examples include obesity, adult-onset (type 2) diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and depression.
This is why it stands to reason that sleep can also have an impact upon how long we live.
How can sleep affect our lifespan? What restorative benefits does it have to offer? Why is quality just as important as quantity? What conditions may impact our sleeping habits and are there any ways in which they can be remedied? These are some of the issues that will be discussed throughout this article.
What is the Purpose of Sleep?
Until relatively recently, the exact purpose of sleep was debated. However, it is now known that sleep plays a vital role in the life cycles of nearly every organism on the planet. This is due to the actions that the body is performing when we are asleep.
Sleep is a natural restorative process, as the body repairs any cell damage that may have occurred throughout the day. Here are some of the tasks that are performed during sleep:
- Regulating the temperature of the body.
- Removing waste products in the brain.
- Balancing hormonal levels.
- Strengthening our immune system.
- Repairing the musculoskeletal system.
There are other reasons why sleeping has been directly linked to longevity.
The Role of Age
It is interesting to note that sleep patterns will often depend on the age of the individual. For example, those who are older will generally require less sleep compared to an individual in his or her 20s.
If we think about it for a moment, this actually makes perfect sense. Younger people tend to be more active and therefore, their bodies require more time to recuperate. Hence, a few hours of rest is not nearly sufficient.
Quantity Versus Quality
Some readers may be familiar with the term "DaVinci sleeping". It was claimed that Leonardo DaVinci had constructed a sleeping pattern with three to four hours in total every day. He believed that this lifestyle actually benefited his cognitive abilities. While there is no doubt that DaVinci was a genius, he was certainly not a sleep specialist.
Many of the benefits that can be attributed to sleeping are directly related to REM cycles. These are the times when we are perceived to be dreaming. Sometimes referred to as "sleeping spindles", scientists believe that such instances play a crucial role in how the body returns to homeostasis (a state of hormonal, physical and chemical balance).
The problem here is that sleeping in short bouts does not allow the body to enter into this stage. While we may indeed be at rest, the body is not able to truly focus on healing itself from the day’s activities.
This is also why those who rest for relatively short periods of time and suddenly awake often feel extremely tired and lethargic. The body was unable to begin the healing process.
The So-Called "Goldilocks" Zone
Considering the facts outlined above, it would appear that "more is better" in terms of sleeping, health and overall longevity. However, this is certainly not the case.
While many studies have found that too little rest can impact our quality of life, the same holds true in regard to those who find themselves sleeping for more than nine hours at a stretch.
It seems as if the body has been naturally "programmed" to know how much downtime is required to perform various physiologically oriented maintenance activities.
Excessive rest could therefore be a detriment to our long-term health. This is also why the use of chemical aids such as sedatives and tranquilizers should be avoided at all costs.
Conditions that Can Impact the Quality of Our Sleep
There are many scenarios that can affect our sleeping patterns. Some of these such as stress and anxiety are emotional in nature. Others will manifest themselves physically.
One well-known example is a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With this condition, the muscles within the throat tighten up during sleep.
As the body is unable to receive the oxygen that it requires, individuals will often wake up coughing, choking or otherwise gasping for air. Loud snoring is a primary symptom of OSA, with many sleep partners suffering from their own lack of sleep.
This is why it is extremely important to consult with a specialist if you chronically have difficulty getting a full night of restorative sleep. And especially if you have symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea –
- Loud snoring
- Wake up gasping for breath or choking
- Morning headaches
- Daily fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Drowsy driving
The best way to prevent any long-term consequences and to promote longevity is to address small issues before they become serious problems.
Although many of us lead hectic lives in this day and age, the restorative effects of sleeping should never be overlooked. Your body will certainly thank you in the morning!