Skip to content

Are you feeling old? You are most likely not getting enough sleep, Stockholm University researchers say

19 April 2024
← Back to news
Ten years older! This is how being sleepy can make you feel. A study published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B and conducted by the researchers at Stockholm University shows how sleep affects how old you feel. So if you ever find yourself longing for the energy and vitality of your younger years, perhaps you should go to bed earlier in the evening. 
Photo: Anna Koldunova, Mostphotos_SU

Feeling young is not just a matter of perception, but it's actually related to objective health outcomes. Previous studies have shown that feeling younger than one’s actual age is associated with longer, healthier lives. There is even support for subjective age to predict actual brain age, with those feeling younger having younger brains.

Given that sleep is essential for brain function and overall well-being, we decided to test whether sleep holds any secrets to presereg a youthful sense of age,” says Leonie Balter, researcher at the Department of Psychology, Stockholm University.

The first study: how old do you feel?

The researchers conducted 2 separate studies to test their theory. During the first one, 429 individuals aged 18 to 70 were asked how old they felt, how many days in the past month they had not gotten enough sleep, and how sleepy they were. It turned out that for each night with insufficient sleep in the past month, participants felt on average 0.23 years older.

The second study: sleep deprivation

Arter the first study, the researchers tested whether it was indeed the lack of sleep causing participants to feel older. Therefore, they conducted an experimental sleep restriction study involving 186 participants aged 18 to 46. Participants restricted their sleep for two nights – only four hours in bed each night – and another time slept sufficiently for two nights, with nine hours in bed each night.

Conclusion: go to bed!

After the sleep restriction, participants felt on average 4.4 years older compared to when having enjoyed sufficient sleep. The effects of sleep on subjective age appeared to be related to how sleepy they felt. Feeling extremely alert was related to feeling 4 years younger than one’s actual age, while extreme sleepiness was related to feeling 6 years older than one’s actual age.

This means that going from feeling alert to sleepy added a striking 10 years to how old one felt. Therefore safeguarding our sleep is crucial for maintaining a youthful feeling. This, in turn, may promote a more active lifestyle and encourage behaviours that promote health, as both feeling young and alert are important for our motivation to be active,” concludes Leonie Balter. 

If you need to know more, go check the original story, in Swedish