Getting enough sleep is one of the most underappreciated elements of extending your lifespan.
You need 8 hours of sleep each night. If you think you’re one of those people who can get away with 5 or 6 hours of sleep, the scientific evidence is not on your side.
Sleep expert Dr. Matt Walker, author of the excellent book Why We Sleep, says that sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our mental and physical health each day.
As Matt told me during my 2022 Platinum Longevity Trip, sleep is “Mother Nature’s best effort yet at immortality.”
There is a direct relationship between how well you sleep and how long you live.
In today’s blog, I’ll discuss the power of sleep and what I’m personally doing to improve my sleep and increase my longevity.
Let’s dive in…
The Power of Sleep
In Why We Sleep, Matt points out that close to 0% of the total population can get away with less than 7 hours of sleep a night without harming their health.
For most people, regularly getting 8 hours of sleep boosts memory retention, enhances concentration, augments creativity, stabilizes emotions, strengthens the immune system, enhances athletic performance, and staves off deadly ailments like cancers and heart disease.
Still not convinced?
For the human brain, the difference between regularly getting a good sleep and a bad sleep is a decrease from 100% to 60% in the brain's ability to retain new facts. Or as Matt puts it, a sliding scale between “acing an exam and failing it miserably!”
Sleep plays a critical role in learning and memory. Throughout the night, we fluctuate between rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, where dreaming occurs, and deeper non-rapid eye movement (NREM) cycles. These cycles are responsible for transferring the information accumulated throughout the day from short-term memory to long-term memory.
REM sleep, and the mental images that are created during it, also helps fuel our creativity by generating new connections between ideas that may not be obvious while we’re awake. Matt’s research has shown that REM sleep acts like overnight therapy, by allowing us to process difficult experiences with rehearsed ease.
Sleep gives our body a vital opportunity to recover from the stresses of the day. It aids recovery from inflammation, gives our cells a chance to restock their energy stores, and stimulates muscle repair.
Regularly failing to complete our sleep cycles leads to significant drops in the time taken to reach physical exhaustion, reduced muscle strength, faster build-up of lactic acid, and lower blood oxygen.
With that in mind, here’s what I’m doing to ensure that I consistently get a good night’s sleep…
My Sleep Practices
Earlier in my life, I would pride myself on how little sleep I could get away with.
My target was typically 5.5 hours. I would routinely take red-eye flights so I could sleep on the flight and hit the ground running. Boy was I wrong. I wish I knew then what I know now!
I now prioritize getting 8 hours of high-quality restful sleep. Much of this information is available in more detail in both LIFE FORCE and Why We Sleep.
How Long and When: Today my absolute target is 8 hours of sleep, with 7 hours as a minimum. It doesn’t mean I always achieve that, but I always try. While I used to be a night owl staying up routinely until 2am, over the past decade I’ve shifted my sleep schedule to much earlier. I’m typically in bed by 9:30pm, and asleep by 10pm, and typically wake on my own around 5:30am to 6am.
Wind Down & Bedtime: One of the most important keys to getting a good night’s sleep is your “wind-down” period, and the timing of when you get to sleep.
Wind-Down Period: For me, this is 30 minutes, typically between 9pm and 9:30pm when I turn down the lights, put on my blue-light-blocking glasses, and slow down my routine. No TV. No Computer. I’ll get into bed and either meditate on the day (what I’m most grateful for) or listen to a book on Audible, an app that I love.
Standard Bedtime: This is more important than you might expect. Setting and sticking to a routine is critical for high-quality sleep. Eight hours of sleep between 10am and 6am is *not* the same as eight hours between 12am and 8am.
Eye Mask: I use a Manta Sleep Mask (https://mantasleep.com/), which I love. It’s super comfortable, blocks out all light, and avoids putting pressure directly on your eyes. I’ve become addicted to this eye mask and own three of them, and always travel with one wherever I go.
Staying Cool at Night:
Room Temperature: I follow Dr. Matt Walker’s advice and set my room temperature at a chilly ~65 degrees F (18.3 degrees C). The body needs to drop its core temperature to enter deep sleep.
Cooling Mattress Pad: I purchased a cooling pad called Eight Sleep that covers the mattress (under your bedding) and cools you down to a chosen temperature. I typically set this at ~65 degrees F (18.3 degrees C) as well.
Blue-Light-Blocking Glasses: About 30 minutes before going to sleep, I put on a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses to ensure my body produces optimal melatonin levels to help me fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep throughout the night.
Mandibular Adjustment Device: I snore and grind my teeth. In the past I used a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, which works, but they are clumsy and uncomfortable. Now I use a specially-fitted upper and lower mouth guard called a “Mandibular Adjustment Device” that juts my lower jaw forward, keeping my airways open and preventing snoring and apnea. Plus, it also prevents me from grinding my teeth. I love it so much that I can’t go to sleep without it.
Evening Entertainment: I’ve eliminated watching any TV in bed before sleep and stay off my phone and computer for the last 30 minutes before going to sleep, using my blue-light-blocking glasses if I need to interact with devices. As I mentioned above, I typically use Audible to listen to a book and set the timer for 15 minutes. I guess that’s the adult equivalent of being read a bedtime story!
Sleep Supplement: If I think I’m going to have a challenge getting to sleep, I will use a product called Peak Rest by Lifeforce (www.mylifeforce.com/product/peak-rest).
Oura Ring – Measuring My Sleep: The Oura ring allows me to gamify my sleep. It gives you a daily “Readiness Score” and a “Sleep Score.” My goal is always to get at least a score of 90 on each (which I don’t always achieve, but it’s my target). Many times, just the thought that I will be measured in the morning is motivation enough to get to sleep early and minimize any alcohol intake.
No Late-night Eating: I avoid having any food within 2 hours of going to sleep (so, typically 7:30pm for my 9:30pm bedtime). This gives my body enough time to begin digestion and to prevent a full stomach that can lead to heartburn.
No Coffee after 2pm: Caffeine has a half-life of up to 5 hours, which means it takes that amount of time for the quantity of caffeine in your body to be reduced by half. To ensure a good night's sleep, it is often recommended to avoid consuming caffeine for at least six hours before going to bed.
Why This Matters
According to a study in Rand Health Quarterly, poor-quality sleep costs the US over $400 billion per year in lost productivity.
The same study estimates that more than half a million days of full-time work are lost every year due to people sleeping less than 6 hours.
On an individual level, for most people sleep is often the first thing they give up. But the popular belief that “you can sleep when you’re dead” is fundamentally damaging to your health, happiness, and longevity.
For example, regularly getting less than 6 or 7 hours of sleep each night doubles your risk of cancer and can increase the likelihood that you’ll develop Alzheimer’s disease. Insufficient sleep can also contribute to major psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression.
One of the key lessons from Why We Sleep is: if humans had been able to evolve with the ability to get along with less sleep, then we would have.
Yet evolutionarily our bodies retained the need for 8 hours.
Make sleep a priority.