I was lying in bed last night pondering a heavy question. What is the most important practice to boost our energy and extend our life? Is it avoiding the bad habits of smoking, sitting, and isolation? Is it adding in the good activities of eating leafy greens, walking 10,000 steps, or meditating? Or is it in a capsule full of resveratrol, PQQ, or astragalus (all of which I take)?
The irony was that the answer was under my head all along. We can control so much of our environment while striving for health and long-life. We can filter our water, use apps to stand up, by organic produce, do cleansing breaths, and go on wifi detoxes. One need we share with all of the animal kingdom however is our need for sleep. In fact, we are the only species that willfully limits our sleep and even completely alters it by doing shift work that has been shown to substantially increase risks for cancer. At the end of the day, we are called to perform the most primitive activity that our body must have for optimal function, pillow time and enough of it. We must surrender our smart phone, our Excel spreadsheets, and our plans for exponential growth for long enough to restore and rejuvenate for an amount of time at night. The beast must be rested.
How important is sleep? It turns out your very life may depend on it, at least the quantity and quality. Recently two large studies have examined the role of sleep duration and survival and the findings are instructive. In the first study researchers at the National Cancer Institute studied 239,896 U.S. men and women followed for 14 years. In that time over 44,000 subjects died. They found that short sleep duration (<7 hours a day) predicted higher mortality, particularly form cardiovascular causes like heart attack and stroke. The combination of short sleep, infrequent exercise, TV viewing >3 hours/day, and elevated BMI >25 was a strong predictor of overall deaths and cancer deaths.
The second study at the NIH studied 7,690 men and women free of heart disease at the beginning of the test period. The 10-year risk of heart disease was lowest for those sleeping 7 hours at night compared with those sleeping either less or more.
What is happening during sleep that has such a powerful effect on survival and rates of cancer and heart disease? There is a wealth of research speaking to the restorative and anabolic advantages of adequate rest to secure gains made during the day in terms of exercise, fitness and mind-body practices. Arguably, sleep may be the most important health habit to conquer in order to set the foundation for all other wellness activities. Sleep takes us back to our primal roots and resting from dusk to dawn is the most Paleo activity we can engage in. The seven good hours we strive for at night cannot be delegated to a virtual assistant or an app. Wishing you a good night’s sleep every night.
Originally posted on HuffingtonPost.com