We all think we know the secret to longevity and good mental health.
Spend time with our families, work hard to earn a good wage, eat fresh food and exercise regularly.
But I’d like to add one very important habit that is, nine times out of ten, overlooked by most people.
Sleep – Letting the body repair cells and restore itself at night is one of the most important things you can do.
Doctors recommend between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, depending on who you ask, but how many of us routinely get that amount?
The truth is, sleep is often the first casualty of a busy life.
We burn the candle at both ends to keep on top of our work, but this causes problems during the day.
Serious sleep-deprivation is like being drunk.
We are liable to forget things, we become vague, and we struggle to keep focused.
Here are some facts about sleep that will ensure you make getting to bed early a priority:
1. A lack of sleep impairs memory
Researchers from the University of Michigan recently looked at what happens to our brains when we don’t get enough sleep.
You guessed it: it isn’t good.
The study found that sleep deprivation interferes with the rhythm of neuronal firing in a region called the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is the brain structure responsible for the formation of long-term memories.
Previous studies have also pointed to the importance of sleep in producing memories.
Pretty crucial stuff.
2. You can’t decide how much you need
Stories abound of entrepreneurs who manage to get by on four hours’ sleep a night.
And while some people may need less than others, most people need a lot more than that.
You may wish to be one of those people that need very little sleep — imagine how much more you would get done — but at the end of the day, you don’t decide how much you need, your body does.
It’s time to listen to it.
3. Sleep deprivation makes us sick
In a recent article in the Neuron science journal, University of California Berkeley researchers found that the poor sleep of the elderly increase their risk of memory loss, as well as a host of mental and physical problems.
“Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” said the article’s senior author, Matthew Walker.
Mr Walker said that sleep deterioration has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and stroke.
So, the science is in: sleep is the fountain of youth.
4. Caffeine (or sugar) won’t help
Think your morning coffee can make up for lost sleep? It’s unlikely.
You may get a short jolt, but caffeine won’t give you the sustained energy that deep sleep can.
The same goes for sugar.
While a hit of the sweet stuff causes our energy levels to spike, they don’t last like that for very long and we end up crashing within an hour or two.
5. You can’t catch up on the weekends
Most of us are guilty of this one.
We think if we go without sleep during the week, we can simply catch up on the weekends.
But the thing about sleep deprivation is that the more we deny ourselves sleep, the greater the sleep debt becomes.
If we miss two hours of sleep every weeknight, then we will need an extra 10 hours on the weekend to catch up and feel fully restored.
The point of me talking about sleep isn’t to make you feel bad about not getting any or enough.
I know it’s tough at times, especially if you have a young family, to get the right amount of shut-eye.
But we do need to work harder at prioritising sleep.
Our health now, and in our later years, depends on it.