photo of Greek beach town in Ikaria where people sleep well and live to 100

Sleep Habits of the Longest Living People in the World

By Lambros Hilas

If you’re looking to live a long high quality life, it’s an exciting time as we’re learning a lot about the secrets of healthy sleep and longevity.

National Geographic explorer and researcher Dan Buettner has highlighted geographic spots around the world where people regularly live to be 100 without serious mental or physical disease.  These locations, so called Blue Zones, include Ikaria (Greece), Loma Linda (California), Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), and Nicoya (Costa Rica).

His research into the habits of the longest living people in the world has revealed the positive impact of sleep habits that promote longevity and attributes in common that are associated with longevity:

The longest living people keep a consistent sleep schedule

Going to bed at pretty much the same time every night is essential to train your brain is “time to go to sleep”.

Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night

Research has shown this is the optimal amount to revitalize and power the brain and body.

Schedule time to “down shift”

Although the pre-bedtime routine may vary between blue zones, it’s important for managing stress.  Whether it’s taking a walk, reading a book, socializing with friends and family or set time aside to unwind the ultimate goal is NOT to carry the day’s stress to bed.

Schedule down time during the day

The Ikarians (Greece) take mid-day naps, while the Okinawans take quiet moments to honor their ancestors through brief and simple ceremonies.  The Sardinians have “happy hour”.

The benefits of a good nap

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the world’s most respected academic medical centers, have found that people who take 30-40 minute power naps daily have lower rates of heart disease and a decreased risk of heart attacks.

After a nap, one typically has lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  Over time, regular nappers also have less inflammation in their bodies.

Less stress and inflammation is good for sleep at night too.

Other daily habits for longevity

French and Italian research has shown that a couple glasses of red wine a day, especially with friends/family and with a meal can lower mortality.

In Blue Zones, people stay active with light work farming, gardening, or fishing.  They live in environments that encourages movement throughout the day without thinking.

The lesson for us is to get up periodically from our desk and figure out ways to be more active whether it’s a walk during lunch or and some other outdoor hobby.

Eat better for longevity

The people around the world who live the longest are not strictly vegetarians, but adhere to mostly plant-based diets.  They grow their own food and staples of the diet are whole grains, nuts, fresh veggies and fish.

The main part of most centenarians’ diets is legumes, beans like fava, black, chickpeas, soy and lentil.  Meat is eaten, on average, only 1-2 times per month in Blue Zones and fish about twice per week.

Besides wine, coffee and green tea are consumed daily.  In Ikaria, they drink a tea that’s made with oregano, rosemary or mint.

Processed and packaged foods are not available and strictly avoided.

It still “takes a village”

Family and community ties are important too. Social circles that support healthy behaviors are key to longevity Blue Zones.  In each community there is a support system, meals are prepared together, time is spent together on religious or community events.

In Icaria where I spent my youth, an emphasis on family and community connection is the essence to life.  Adult kids spend time and care for aging parents/grandparents. Committed, long-term relationships with one partner are common.  Spending time with children and grandchildren and living close by is also the norm.

It’s not just your genetics

Interestingly, scientists believe genetics probably only account for 20–30% of longevity.  Environmental influences, including diet, lifestyle, low stress which results in quality of sleep and family/community ties, play a huge role in determining lifespan.

The good news is that we don’t have to live in any of the Blue Zones to incorporate these simple habits into our lifestyle and potentially add years on to our life.

About the Author

Lambros Hilas is a sleep enthusiast and marketing specialist focused on health & wellness in global markets.

Sources:

1. Dan Buettner Provides the Tools for a Longer Life, 2021

2. 8 Blue Zones Lessons For Slowing Down, Dan Buettner

3. Human longevity: Genetics or Lifestyle? It takes two to tango, Immun Ageing. 2016; 13: 12

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