One of the best habits you can have to be healthy

If the last time you got a good night’s sleep was when you nodded off to Johnny Carson, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

Because getting the right amount of ZZZs is more than just a good idea — it’s something that can add more candles to your birthday cake.

On the other hand, losing out on hours spent in dreamland can subtract them — it’s really that simple.

And if achieving that sleep goal is something that just doesn’t seem possible, don’t give up yet!

There are four easy ways to help you get the restful sleep time needed to revive one of the best habits you can have to be healthy. And it might even help with the “wealthy and wise” part, too!

The eight-hour solution

It wasn’t all that long ago that, unless you were a doctor, nurse, or some other night-shift worker, you were expected to turn in at a semi-respectable hour.

Remember how TV actually went off the air shortly after midnight? The national anthem would play… and then there was a test pattern.

No stores were open 24 hours, either. Try explaining that one to kids today!

So, it looks like it’s time to take a step back to when getting enough sleep wasn’t considered optional.

Sleep is actually the “down time” your brain needs to clear the clutter that builds up in the form of those amyloid plaques that have been linked to Alzheimer’s. It’s also associated with how well your immune system functions, as some studies have found that working the night shift can make people more prone to develop various types of cancers.

And lack of sleep, says Dr. Matthew Walker, director of the University of California’s Center for Human Sleep Science, may be what’s causing much of the current epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

Being sleepless in Seattle (or anywhere else) has been shown to decrease levels of leptin, the hormone that tells you when you’ve had enough to eat, and increase ghrelin, a hormone that causes you to feel hungry. It also makes the body less able to utilize insulin and keep blood sugar levels under control.

Then there are the effects that not sleeping can have on your circulatory system, with just one night of reduced sleep having been found to accelerate both the heart rate and blood pressure. And studies have revealed that adults over 45 who sleep fewer than six hours a night are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than those who regularly snooze for seven or eight hours.

Losing out on shuteye can also affect your critical-thinking and decision-making skills.

As Dr. Walker puts it, lack of sleep affects “every possible nook and cranny” in your body. And surprisingly, sleep deprivation is considered anything less than seven hours a night!

So what can you do to get yourself out of this sleepless trap and improve your longevity, well-being and alertness?

Here are four good ways to get started:

  1. Just as you did with the kids, give yourself the benefit of a regular bedtime — one that will allow you to snooze for at least seven hours (or, even better, eight) — and stick to it.
  2. Put down the phone, the tablet, and all other electronic gadgets a good hour or so before you go to bed. The light these devices give off can zap your natural production of melatonin that makes it easier for you to fall asleep.
  3. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. And if you usually get up during the night to use the bathroom, instead of keeping nightlights on, put a flashlight by your bed instead.
  4. Don’t have coffee or anything else that’s high in caffeine, such as chocolate and strong types of tea (think English breakfast!), too late in the afternoon, as those stimulating effects can stick with you for a good six hours.

And remember, sleeping pills aren’t the answer. Along with their many side effects they can also negatively impact your memory — which natural sleep can actually help to restore.

“The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life: the new sleep science” Rachel Cooke, September 24, 2017, The Guardian,