Sleep is such an integrated part of our lives that we tend to not give it much thought. Some people get just a few hours of sleep, and some are able to function on even less. What’s the big deal, anyway? We all get at least a bit of sleep, right? Does sleep really matter? If so, what’s considered “enough” sleep and is it possible to get too much?
In a previous article, we discussed the seven keys to longevity found by the Alameda County Health Study. The keys were:
- Sleeping seven to eight hours per night
- No eating between meals
- Eating regular breakfasts
- Maintaining a proper weight
- Exercising regularly
- Moderate or no drinking of alcohol
- Not smoking
Let’s start with number one: sleep.
How much sleep do you need?
Studies have shown that it is possible to get too little and too much sleep, but in general, six to nine hours of sleep tend to be ideal for most people. It was shown that those that got less than six hours of sleep or more than nine hours of sleep had 60-70% increased the risk of dying during the nine-year period of the study. 1
The importance of sleep versus exercise
Can getting proper sleep be as important as exercise? In men, it was found that too much or too little sleep carried the same risk to of dying as not exercising regularly. Within the nine-year period of the study, those that did not exercise regularly were found to have a 50% increased risk of dying compared to those that exercise regularly.1
From this data, it appears that getting proper sleep can be even more important than exercise in order to preserve life and vitality. Obviously, getting both proper rest and exercise would be even better! In fact, they’re connected. Getting an hour of exercise can boost your natural melatonin levels by two or three times!2 Melatonin has been shown to increase sleep quality and is also linked to increased longevity.3
The link between sleep and stroke risk
Researchers have been increasingly interested in sleep and its effect on health. In a recent study, scientists in Japan followed 100,000 middle-aged men and women for fourteen years. Upon observation, those that got four or fewer hours of sleep and those that got ten or more hours of sleep had a 50% increased risk of dying from stroke.4
In 2014 a similar study was conducted among 150,000 Americans. Individuals that slept for six hours or less or more than nine hours had the highest stroke risk. The lowest risk was found among those that got seven to eight hours of sleep per night.5 Other studies conducted in China, Europe, and elsewhere have confirmed that seven to eight hours of sleep is optimal for health and longevity.
Tips for better sleep
- Make sure to get natural light during the day and avoid nighttime light exposure, such as light from television and phone screens. This has been shown to boost melatonin production. 6
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat foods with natural melatonin, like oats, corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, and barley). 7
- Sleep as early as possible. In general, the closer your bedtime is to sundown, the better for restful sleep. You know what they say, “Early to bed, early to rise.”
- Eat foods high in tryptophan, such as tofu, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, and black walnuts. Tryptophan is one of the eight essential amino acids and is a precursor for melatonin production.
- Claustrat B, Brun J, et al. Melatonin and jet lag: confirmatory results using a simplified protocol. Biol Psychiatry. 1992 Oct 15; 32(8):705-711.
- Carr DB, Reppert SM, et al. Plasma melatonin increases during exercise in women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1981 Jul;53(1):224-225.
- Reiter RJ. The ageing pineal gland and its physiological consequences. Bioessays 1992 Mar;14(3):169-175.
- Ikehara S, Iso H, Date C, et al. JACC Study Group. Association f sleep duration with mortality from cardiovascular disease and other causes for Japanese men and women: the JACC study. Sleep. 2009;32(3):295-301.
- Fang J, Wheaton AG, Ayala C. Sleep duration and history of stroke among adults from the USA. J Sleep Res. 2014;23(5):531-7.
- Lewy AJ, Wehr TA, et al. Light suppresses melatonin secretion in humans. Science. 1980 Dec12;210(4475):1267-1269.
- Dubbels R, Reiter RJ, et al. Melatonin in edible plants identified by radioimmunoassay and by high performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. J Pineal Res. 1995 Jan;18(1):28-31.