Sleeping Couple

Sleep in your 50’s.

Sleep has always been a bit of a biological mystery. Often hard to catch and sometimes neglected on purpose, many of us experience sleep simply as a bit of a break. “Too much” sleep is stigmatized as lazy. Culture wants us to be the early bird that catches the worm at the expense of a sufficient night’s rest.

What many of us don’t know is that 7-9 hours of sleep is necessary if we want to be our healthiest selves. Human beings are the only species on the planet that intentionally deprive us of sleep, and it can really hurt us. Think about it this way – if you were denied either food, water, exercise, or sleep for 24 hours, which would have the most significant negative impact? By far a lack of sleep would take the biggest toll on your body.

Studies have shown that shorter sleep means a shorter life. Though we think of sleep as rest, our brain is actually up to 30% more active throughout the night. It’s busy producing more natural killer cells to make your immune system stronger, changing your genetics to reduce your risk of cancer and other deadly illnesses, improving your memory, reducing cortisol levels (your stress hormone), and lots of other amazing things that help your body to function the best it can. Studies have shown that getting only 4 hours of sleep for just one night sees a 70% decrease in your immune health, and less than 6 hours results in a 200% increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. It also has a huge impact on mental health – sleep troubles are part of every single psychiatric condition, and there are lower suicide rates among those who sleep well.

The good news is that it’s never too late to start sleeping better. As we get older the quality and quantity of our sleep decreases and we are more likely to get sick, so it’s even more important that we focus on sleep. It’s only natural that as soon as our heads hit the pillow our brains kick into overdrive and we begin thinking about what we have and haven’t done, our regrets and our faults, what’s not quite right in our lives. One way to calm yourself down is through regular mindfulness and meditation practice. Insomniacs who practice mindfulness find that they begin to sleep better, even more so than when they take medication. Exercise is also helpful, and not having too much alcohol or caffeine is important too.

Sleep expert Matthew Walker says that “sleep is not a pillar of health, but the foundation upon which all other pillars are erected.” Taking a holistic approach to our wellbeing will help us lay this foundation. It’s time that we get rid of the stigma and reclaim our right to sleep.


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