Sleep Is an Essential Part of Healthy Aging

senior woman sleeping on couch with dog


The reason for sleep has been a mystery to researchers for millennia. For many of us, sleep may seem like wasted time. Think of all the things you could be doing, new adventures you could be having and places you could be exploring if your body didn’t get tired each day. But, as it turns out, your body is very active during sleep and is working diligently to keep your body in peak condition. The regions of the brain involved in learning, processing information, and emotion are more active when you’re sleeping than they are when you’re awake. Your brain is also eliminating waste more quickly and efficiently while you’re slumbering.

Here are just some of the ways sleep helps you maintain a healthy mind and body.

Sharpens mental acuity

During sleep, the brain is actively working to process information. Sleep helps you retain information you’ve accumulated throughout the day. So, remember those all-night cram sessions you pulled in college? It turns out, you may have been better served by getting some sleep. In addition to rewiring your brain to better access information, your brain is actively eliminating waste during sleep, including beta-amyloid proteins, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Strengthens your immune system

While you’re slumbering, your immune system is recharging. Research has discovered that even a small amount of sleep deprivation can increase your risk for a variety of diseases, including heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, arthritis, COPD and even depression.

Reduces your risk of injury 

When you’re tired, you’re more likely to become careless and your risk of injury increases. Many studies have been done of the effect of drowsy driving, which has been estimated to be a factor in 20 percent of fatal car crashes. Crash rates for those who have managed only four to five hours of sleep have a similar risk as someone who is driving with a blood alcohol concentration at or above the legal limit. Additionally, your risk of falling, tripping, or cutting yourself all increase when you’re sleep deprived.

Boosts your ability to perform

Whether you’re an athlete, a brainiac, or pursue creative endeavors, a good night’s sleep will help you perform at your peak. A Stanford University study found that college basketball players who extended their sleep to 10 hours a night or longer improved sprint times and shooting accuracy. You may have heard the phrase “Let me sleep on it.” Researchers have discovered that your brain is very active during sleep. If you learn something new, sleeping may help you retain your knowledge longer. If you have an issue that needs solving, catching some ZZZs may help you discover a solution to your problem.

Improves your mood 

Most of us have experienced waking up not feeling refreshed or well-rested after a fitful night of sleep. Even one off night can affect our mood and increase the likelihood of getting angry, upset or sad. And, as mentioned above, a good night’s sleep improves your physical and mental health, all of which help you maintain an optimistic outlook.

Tips for getting a better night’s sleep

Avoid eating and drinking before bedtime
Late-night eating can negatively affect sleep quality by causing indigestion and inhibiting the natural release of sleep-inducing hormones, such as melatonin and HGH. Drinking can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom. Many people drink alcohol to induce sleep, but it has been shown to increase symptoms of sleep apnea and snoring and can disrupt normal sleeping patterns.

Expose yourself to bright light during the day, avoid light at night
Your body has a natural clock, known as its circadian rhythm. Natural sunlight or other bright light during the day helps you stay awake. Lights from your TV, computer or smartphone at nighttime trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime and can keep you awake, so avoid late-night screen time.

Exercise during the day
Physical activity during the day help the body relax and nighttime. Don’t exercise right before going to sleep.

Create a sleeping environment that is conducive to quality sleep
Make sure you bedroom is quiet, the right temperature (a little on the cool side is usually best) and you have a comfortable bed and pillow that supports your body.

Try to stick to a regular sleeping schedule
Being consistent with your sleep times helps your body’s natural circadian rhythm function at its peak.

 If you wake up during the night, and want to get back to sleep, try taking a hot bath or shower, meditate or take a natural supplement, such as melatonin, if your doctor gives you the okay.