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If you don’t live under a rock, you’ve probably been hearing the word “longevity” work itself into conversations around health more and more. Longevity can come in many forms and has a different definition for everyone. The way that we view longevity at LYMBR is not just how long you are able to do something; rather how long you are able to do that thing well and without pain. If you have been playing golf for 45 years and have had hip pain for 40 of those years, that is not longevity, that is playing injured. Those are very different things. Now, it’s important to note that we’re at a period in history where our population has, quite literally, never been this injured, sleep impaired, and nutrient deficient. So, is this whole longevity thing a ‘pie in the sky’ type of goal, or is it actually achievable? That’s probably too subjective of a question to answer without applying it to a specific person. Furthermore, there’s a lot we still don’t know about longevity, and more specifically newer longevity practices. In a microcosm it seems to be highly effective, but we have yet to see how many of these fads perform at a macro level and how they’ll do over the next couple of decades. 

All I’m trying to say is there is quite a bit of riff raff when it comes to the actual meaning of longevity and how to promote it in your day-to-day life. Having said that, there are really three key pieces of health that, if you focus on, will bring the idea of longevity into reality. In this series we’re going to cover those three topics in depth, beginning with the most important: SLEEP. 

Sleep is one of the most important facets of our health and long-term wellness. It is also one that is widely overlooked and under-appreciated. I often talk to clients about taking more accountability for their sleep the same way they would take accountability for their food and their exercise. People tend to get the exercise part fairly quickly, the food takes a bit longer, but sleep always seems to be put on the back burner. This is a very backwards approach. If anything (and this is coming from a seasoned strength and conditioning coach) your exercise should probably come last out of these three. Without optimal sleep, emphasis on the word optimal, your food and exercise will not make up for the deficits and health affects you face from a lack of sleep. The age-old adage of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is an antiquated, and irresponsible approach to rest and recovery. Make no mistake, sleep is the most important thing we can do for the continued health of our body and mind. Here are some of the hard truths about sleep, what happens to you if you’re in a sleeping deficit, and some of the things we can do to improve our sleep. 

  1. People who sleep shorter, live shorter. There is a direct correlation to the amount you sleep to the number of years you live. Optimal sleep, for optimal time, will directly increase your lifespan. 

  2. You can never “sleep back” the hours you have lost. However, napping can help bolster your sleep score. Most underdeveloped societies untouched by electricity sleep this way. A full night of sleep, followed by a 30–60-minute nap the following day. In places such as Greece, where siestas still exist (periods of the day where people go home to rest and nap), men are four times more likely to reach the age of 90 than American males. However, taking naps due to poor sleep the night before is not a fix, but a rather ineffective Band-Aid. 

  3. REM sleep recalibrates the emotional centers of the brain and is mainly responsible for creativity or lack thereof. REM sleep, meaning rapid eye movement sleep, starts about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. This is where most of your dreaming happens, and is extremely important for learning, memory, as well as many other things. 

  4. Deep sleep may be a sign of brain maturation. This is due, largely, to the role that deep sleep plays in cognitive and psychosocial function especially in a maturing brain.  Remember that deep sleep assists with things like learning, stress, memory, all of which needs to be managed effectively as they mature. 

  5. Any individual, no matter what age, will exhibit physical ailments, mental health instability, reduced alertness, and impaired memory if their sleep is chronically disrupted.

  6. Sleep has proven itself time and again as a memory aid: both before learning, to prepare your brain for initially making new memories, and after learning, to cement those memories and prevent forgetting.

  7. Anything less than eight hours of sleep a night, especially less than six hours a night, the following starts to happen: time to physical exhaustion drops by 10 – 30% significantly reducing aerobic output. Impairments are also observed in performance metrics such as limb extension force (think straightening your knee or extending your elbow), vertical jump height, as well as decreases in peak and sustained muscle strength. Add to this, a decrease in cardiovascular, metabolic, and respiratory capabilities that impede a tired body. This includes faster rates of lactic acid buildup, reductions in oxygen in the blood, and therefore an increase in carbon dioxide in the blood. This can lead to soreness, dysfunctional movement, and therefore increasing the risk and likelihood of injury. Even the ability of the body to cool itself during physical exertion through sweating – a critical part of peak performance – is impaired by a lack of sleep. 

  8. Post-performance sleep accelerates physical recovery from common inflammation, stimulates muscle repair, and helps restock cellular energy in the form of glucose and glycogen.
  1. Sleep loss inflicts devastating effects on the psychology and physiology of the human body. Sleep loss is directly linked to the following conditions: Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, stroke, chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, infertility, weight gain, obesity, and immune deficiency. 

  2. Power naps may increase basic concentration under conditions of sleep deprivation, as well as caffeine depending on the dose. Neither naps nor caffeine can salvage more complex functions of the brain, including learning, memory, emotional stability, complex reasoning, or decision-making.

  3. Many emotional and psychiatric problems can occur under sleep deprivation. Conversely, treating some of these issues with sleep has shown success.

  4. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.

  5. Up here in the north, the switch to daylight savings in March means we are losing an hour of sleep. If you look at the millions of daily hospital records, you will find that this seemingly trivial amount of sleep loss comes with a harrowing increase in heart attacks the following day. However, when the clocks move forward again, we see a drastic reduction in heart attacks as well as the number of traffic accidents. This speaks to the large impact that small variabilities in sleep can have. 

  6. Decreased sleep, which many first-world adults commonly report, will increase hunger and appetite. It will also compromise impulse control, therefore increasing food consumption, decreasing feelings of fullness, and prevent effective weight loss when dieting. 

  7. Do not take sleeping pills. These do not induce natural sleep. No one would argue you are not sleeping on weapons-grade Ambien, but to say that sleep is natural is just as much of a misnomer. 

“…Wait, but all you did was point out all the bad stuff about not sleeping well. You didn’t give me any tools to help me out.” Patience young grasshopper, I’m getting there. 

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even if it sucks. It is perhaps the single most effective way of helping improve your sleep, even though it involves the use of an alarm clock. This natural method shows a significant trend toward increasingly better sleep with increasing levels of physical activity, and a strong influence of sleep on daytime physical activity. Participants also feel more alert and energetic because of the sleep improvement, and signs of depression proportionally decrease.

  2. Going to bed only when sleepy and avoid sleeping on the couch early/mid-evenings. Never lie awake in bed for a significant time period; rather, get out of bed and do something quiet and relaxing until the urge to sleep returns. Avoid daytime napping if you are having difficulty sleeping at night. Reduce anxiety-provoking thoughts and worries by learning to mentally decelerate before bed.

  3. There are some more obvious methods for improving sleep such as reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, removing phones, laptops, and TV’s from the bedroom, and having a cool bedroom.

  4. Instead of sleeping pills or sleeping technology, try more natural methods. Currently, the most effective of these methods is called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I. It is rapidly being embraced by the medical community as the first-line treatment. You can learn more about CBT-I here.   

  5. Working with a therapist for several weeks, patients are provided with a personalized set of techniques intended to break bad sleep habits and address anxieties that have been inhibiting sleep. 

Longevity implies that it’s lasting. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re hoping to go the distance, then your habits must work to sustain you, which means you must work to sustain your habits. I hope this helps demystify some of the ideas and preconceptions surrounding our sleep. It is the single most important step towards longevity and the practice of long-term health and wellness. If you can get your sleep right, you are stacking the deck in your favor. A principle we have come to know very well at LYMBR. Remember, self-preservation is not a right, nor a privilege, it is an art form. Sleep, my dear friend, is the canvas and the brush.

Most, if not all, of the information I found for this article can be found in Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep”. If you are looking to learn more about how sleep can promote longevity and improve your quality of life, I highly recommend checking this book out. It’s extremely informative, engaging, and will give you years of your life back. 

Written by Conner Fritchley, LYMBR Master Trainer, Darien Stretch Therapist.