First a bit of sleeping humour.

I would love to be paid to sleep. It would be my dream job.

I couldn’t figure out why I haven’t been sleeping all night. And then it dawned on me.

I am so good at sleeping. I can do it with my eyes closed.

Lame, I know. :)

But in reality, sleep is no joking matter. It is one of the most important things we can do for our health and longevity. When you get a good night's rest, your body naturally reduces the levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. This is more significant for South Africans as we live in a high-stress environment and stress is a silent killer. Don't increase your levels of stress by neglecting your sleep.

Here are some other ways that better sleep can contribute to a longer life:

  1. Reduced inflammation: Sleep deprivation can increase inflammation in the body, which is associated with a range of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Getting enough high-quality sleep can help reduce inflammation and lower the risk of these diseases.

  2. Improved cognitive function: Getting enough sleep is crucial for brain health and cognitive function. Sleep helps consolidate memories, improve learning and problem-solving skills, and boost creativity. Better cognitive function can help people stay mentally sharp and engaged as they age.

  3. Better physical health: Sleep is important for physical health as well. It helps the body repair and regenerate tissues, strengthens the immune system, and regulates hormones that control appetite, metabolism, and stress. All of these factors can contribute to better overall health and longevity.

Here are five techniques that can help improve sleep quality:

  1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate the body's internal clock and improve sleep quality. Even on weekends or days off, it's best to stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Also, according to Prof Andrew Huberman the world-renowned neuroscientist, getting sunlight in your eyes in the morning light helps to set your circadian rhythm for the day. So try going for a morning walk, even if it is just for 5 minutes.

  2. Create a relaxing bedtime routine: A relaxing bedtime routine can help signal to the body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. This could include taking a warm bath, reading a book, or practising relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation. Try creating a specific bedtime routine, like a bath followed by a chamomile tea ceremony.

  3. Avoid electronics before bed: The blue light emitted by electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets can interfere with the body's natural sleep-wake cycle. It's best to avoid using these devices for at least an hour before bedtime. They can also increase stress and cognitive load. Reading a book with low-level light will work much better and help you nod off.

  4. Create a sleep-conducive environment: A quiet, cool, and dark environment can help promote better sleep. Using blackout curtains or an eye mask, earplugs, and a comfortable mattress and pillow can all contribute to a more restful sleep environment. Counterintuitively, having a cool sleeping environment helps you sleep as it drops your body temperature, a key factor in getting your body to sleep.

  5. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime: Caffeine and alcohol can both interfere with sleep quality. A lot of people think that drinking alcohol will relax them and lead to better sleep. This is not the case. Alcohol spikes your blood sugar levels and when these drop again it will lead to restless and light sleeping. Alcohol also depletes magnesium which is vital for restful sleep. It's best to avoid consuming these substances in the hours leading up to bedtime.

In addition to these techniques, it's important to prioritize good sleep hygiene overall, such as engaging in regular physical activity, avoiding large meals close to bedtime, and creating a comfortable sleep environment. 

Be kind to yourself and start getting more sleep. It will improve your stress levels, your thinking ability and your energy levels. Remember, you spend a third of your life sleeping so you might as well make the best of it.

This is the sixth post in our series on Longevity. Over the coming weeks, we will dive into what living a life with a longer healthspan means to you. We will look at factors in our everyday lives that impact our longevity and small (and big) changes we can incorporate into our lives to lengthen our healthspan. Look out for our emails and blog posts so you can start the journey to a life well lived.

Next up: Let’s Move It!