February 19, 2024

Optimize your sleep

February longevity challenge

September 22, 2023

Optimize your sleep

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We all know that sleep is vital for good health, yet many of us still struggle to consistently get a good night’s rest. A combination of increasing screen time, longer working hours and the all too common ‘work hard, sleep later’ attitude has led to a global sleep crisis, with more than 1 in 3 American adults reporting not reaching the recommended daily hours. [1] While in the past, going without sleep in favor of working has been seen as passionate and motivated, it is increasingly being recognized for the damaging and harmful practice that it is.

So for this month’s longevity challenge, we want to help you optimize your sleep, and we’ve come up with a list of science-backed techniques to achieve this. 

The right duration

The amount of hours you sleep each night strongly influences your cognitive function and mental health, as well as your physical health and longevity. More hours are not necessarily better, and can in fact be just as harmful as not enough sleep. A large study of 1.1 million people found that the optimal duration of sleep was around 7 hours, with a significantly increased risk of death seen in those who reported sleeping 8 hours or more and those who said they slept 6 hours or less. [2] Other research has also shown that 7 hours of sleep appears to be optimal for cognitive function and mental health. [3]

Interestingly, sleep requirement changes with age, with some research showing that it decreases after the age of 65. For this reason, sleeping too long can be particularly harmful for older people. [4]

Consistent timings

How much sleep you get is crucial, but when you sleep has a strong impact too. Going to bed and getting up at consistent times lowers your risk of chronic disease and death, and later sleep timing is associated with more harmful health effects. [5] One study even showed that going to bed after midnight was associated with a greater risk of osteoporosis. [6] Being consistent with your bedtime is strongly linked to good cognitive performance, and studies looking at college students have found that those with more consistent and earlier sleeping hours performed better academically. [7, 8]

Making the hours count

Not all sleep is created equal. Drinking alcohol or sleeping outside of your normal circadian rhythm, for example, will make your sleep far less restorative. There are a range of metrics that can be used to gauge sleep quality, from the amount of time you spend in REM or deep sleep (the more the better), to how restless you are and how many times you wake up in the night (which you should aim to minimize).

Another factor which can reduce the restorative nature of your sleep is the amount of ambient light reaching your eyes each night. Studies have found that sleeping with even slightly elevated levels of light can disrupt your sleep and negatively impact physical and cognitive health. [9] One found that sleeping with just 100 lux (about the equivalent of a dim sitting room) negatively impacted cardiometabolic function. [10] Achieving complete darkness in your bedroom is challenging, so we recommend using a sleep mask. This may sound like a small change, but studies have shown that using a sleep mask not only significantly improves sleep duration and quality, but also enhances learning and focus the next day. [11]

Your breathing is important for sleep quality too, and breathing through your nose is crucial. Brain imaging studies have proven that nasal breathing provides more oxygen to the brain [12, 13] and this improves sleep quality and enhances cognitive function during waking hours. [14] One way you can ensure nasal breathing during your sleep is by mouth taping, which has been growing in popularity among biohackers.

The 10-3-2-1 rule

A simple and effective way to improve your sleep hygiene is by following the 10-3-2-1 rule.

Caffeine has a powerful and long-lasting effect on sleep, and should be avoided after around midday. Eating late at night results in a spike in heart rate and body temperature as your body works to digest the food, which is the opposite of what your body needs for good quality sleep. Any amount of alcohol will disrupt your sleep (as we’ve written about previously), but avoiding it within three hours of bed will help minimize the impact on your sleep quality. Work and screens both also prevent your mind and body from winding down, so avoiding them at night is crucial. (Note: some people also adhere to a rule of no water two hours before bed, in order to prevent the sleep disruption that comes with needing to get up and use the toilet during the night.)

The challenge

For this month’s challenge, we’re encouraging you to try out as many of the tips below as possible and see what effect it has on your sleep.

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Oscar Allan

SCIENTIFIC CONTENT WRITER & RESEARCHER

Oscar is a science writer and e-learning developer with a master's degree in longevity-related topics

We all know that sleep is vital for good health, yet many of us still struggle to consistently get a good night’s rest. A combination of increasing screen time, longer working hours and the all too common ‘work hard, sleep later’ attitude has led to a global sleep crisis, with more than 1 in 3 American adults reporting not reaching the recommended daily hours. [1] While in the past, going without sleep in favor of working has been seen as passionate and motivated, it is increasingly being recognized for the damaging and harmful practice that it is.

So for this month’s longevity challenge, we want to help you optimize your sleep, and we’ve come up with a list of science-backed techniques to achieve this. 

The right duration

The amount of hours you sleep each night strongly influences your cognitive function and mental health, as well as your physical health and longevity. More hours are not necessarily better, and can in fact be just as harmful as not enough sleep. A large study of 1.1 million people found that the optimal duration of sleep was around 7 hours, with a significantly increased risk of death seen in those who reported sleeping 8 hours or more and those who said they slept 6 hours or less. [2] Other research has also shown that 7 hours of sleep appears to be optimal for cognitive function and mental health. [3]

Interestingly, sleep requirement changes with age, with some research showing that it decreases after the age of 65. For this reason, sleeping too long can be particularly harmful for older people. [4]

Consistent timings

How much sleep you get is crucial, but when you sleep has a strong impact too. Going to bed and getting up at consistent times lowers your risk of chronic disease and death, and later sleep timing is associated with more harmful health effects. [5] One study even showed that going to bed after midnight was associated with a greater risk of osteoporosis. [6] Being consistent with your bedtime is strongly linked to good cognitive performance, and studies looking at college students have found that those with more consistent and earlier sleeping hours performed better academically. [7, 8]

Making the hours count

Not all sleep is created equal. Drinking alcohol or sleeping outside of your normal circadian rhythm, for example, will make your sleep far less restorative. There are a range of metrics that can be used to gauge sleep quality, from the amount of time you spend in REM or deep sleep (the more the better), to how restless you are and how many times you wake up in the night (which you should aim to minimize).

Another factor which can reduce the restorative nature of your sleep is the amount of ambient light reaching your eyes each night. Studies have found that sleeping with even slightly elevated levels of light can disrupt your sleep and negatively impact physical and cognitive health. [9] One found that sleeping with just 100 lux (about the equivalent of a dim sitting room) negatively impacted cardiometabolic function. [10] Achieving complete darkness in your bedroom is challenging, so we recommend using a sleep mask. This may sound like a small change, but studies have shown that using a sleep mask not only significantly improves sleep duration and quality, but also enhances learning and focus the next day. [11]

Your breathing is important for sleep quality too, and breathing through your nose is crucial. Brain imaging studies have proven that nasal breathing provides more oxygen to the brain [12, 13] and this improves sleep quality and enhances cognitive function during waking hours. [14] One way you can ensure nasal breathing during your sleep is by mouth taping, which has been growing in popularity among biohackers.

The 10-3-2-1 rule

A simple and effective way to improve your sleep hygiene is by following the 10-3-2-1 rule.

Caffeine has a powerful and long-lasting effect on sleep, and should be avoided after around midday. Eating late at night results in a spike in heart rate and body temperature as your body works to digest the food, which is the opposite of what your body needs for good quality sleep. Any amount of alcohol will disrupt your sleep (as we’ve written about previously), but avoiding it within three hours of bed will help minimize the impact on your sleep quality. Work and screens both also prevent your mind and body from winding down, so avoiding them at night is crucial. (Note: some people also adhere to a rule of no water two hours before bed, in order to prevent the sleep disruption that comes with needing to get up and use the toilet during the night.)

The challenge

For this month’s challenge, we’re encouraging you to try out as many of the tips below as possible and see what effect it has on your sleep.

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Oscar Allan

Oscar is a science writer and e-learning developer with a master's degree in longevity-related topics