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As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found my sleep patterns changing. What with middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom and the occasional bout of insomnia, figuring out how many hours of restful sleep are ideal for me at 65 has been a bit challenging.
I’ve settled on 7 ½ hours as my perfect number. I go to bed at about the same time each night and wake up at 5 am every morning. In fact, I tend to avoid evening events or other things that will disrupt this routine.
It’s really working for me.
And apparently, I’ve hit on something, because there’s new research showing that I’m pretty darn close to the amount of sleep I should be getting to preserve my mental faculties and to keep functioning well as I age.
The perfect amount of sleep
A new study has concluded that, in order to optimize their mental health, cognitive performance, and overall wellbeing, people from their late thirties to early seventies should be aiming for seven hours of sleep a night.
Scientists from the UK and China examined data from nearly half a million adults aged 38 to 73. These subjects were drawn from the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database and research resource.
Study participants were asked about their sleeping patterns and mental health and wellbeing. They also took part in a series of cognitive tests. Brain imaging and genetic data were available for about 40,000 of the subjects.
The conclusions reached are reminiscent of the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
Those who had too little sleep (fewer than seven hours) had lower scores in areas of cognitive function including processing speed, visual attention, memory and problem-solving skills. These subjects also reported more symptoms of anxiety and depression.
But too much sleep — some people reported up to 12-13 hours a day — had the very same effect.
Why seven hours works
One possible reason for the association between insufficient or excessive sleep and cognitive decline may be the disruption of deep (slow-wave) sleep. It’s during this phase of sleep that “washes” the brain clean of toxins, including the amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s disease.
Also, disruption of deep sleep is associated with tau “tangles” in the brain that are present in other forms of dementia.
The researchers also found that sleep duration of less than or greater than seven hours was linked to differences in structure in the brain regions responsible for cognitive processing and memory.
How to get seven good hours of sleep
Research shows that poor sleep is strongly linked to a negative outlook on aging, which in turn acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy, and becomes detrimental to future physical health and mental health, paving the way for cognitive decline.
So how do we get enough sleep?
First of all, stay away from sleeping pills!
Instead, try these natural alternatives:
Tryptophan. Try adding some high sleep index foods like turkey, lentils and bananas to your diet.
Vitamin D. You need enough of this vitamin if you’re going to maintain your body’s sleep cycle. Salmon, eggs, dairy products or a good supplement will get you all you need.
Sunlight. Morning sunlight helps reset your body’s sleep clock, and increases the likelihood of a good night’s sleep.
Get moving! Even a brief and easy round of walking each day will positively affect your sleep. But don’t exercise close to bedtime — it can have the opposite effect.
Watch those bedtime snacks! – Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods 4-6 hours before bed. Try a light bedtime snack, like warm milk or a banana.
Stop drinking anything at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime to avoid being awakened by your bladder.
Remove screens from the bedroom – Exposure to the light of a smartphone, tablet or computer screen in the hours before bedtime can make it much harder to fall and stay asleep.
Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!
Seven hours of sleep is optimal in middle and old age, say researchers — University of Cambridge