06/22/2011 08:31 am ET | Updated Aug 22, 2011

Sleep Your Brain Younger

We are all familiar with the unpleasant effects of sleep deprivation: fatigue, lack of energy, inattention and irritability. Most of us should really get more sleep -- it would make us feel and perform much better and can even help us lose weight. But did you know it's also possible to get too much sleep?

It turns out that sleep is sort of like Goldilocks -- you don't want too little, and you don't want too much.

What number is just right? The answer is really a range: somewhere between six and eight hours. Any more or less than that may do more than just make you sleepy -- it may cause your brain to age prematurely.

According to one study, both men and women who averaged seven hours of sleep per night performed better on reasoning tests than both people who slept fewer than six hours per night as well as people who slept more than eight. Most interesting, the researchers involved think that the findings show that consistent sleep routines that include sleeping for around seven hours a night can help reduce the regular cognitive decline that happens to all of us as we get older:

  • The study tracked men and women over the course of five years and consistently asked them to perform memory, vocabulary and logic tests.

  • The study suggested that people who got too little or too much sleep showed a loss in brain function that was like aging four to seven years!
  • People tend to sleep less when they age, so maintaining six to eight hours of sleep a night may be a great natural way to prevent some of that natural memory loss that occurs with aging.
  • You might be surprised by the fact that too much sleep could be bad for you, and you wouldn't be alone -- the researchers in the study were surprised as well. They think it may be that these people aren't actually sleeping more than eight hours -- they may be lying in bed battling insomnia, or they may be getting poor-quality sleep. Being in bed doesn't count -- you need around seven hours of quality sleep each night in order to function at your best and keep your brain young.

    Beauty sleep, for your body and your brain.

    Michael J. Breus, Ph.D. is the author of "The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep." Contact him on Twitter @thesleepdoctor, and on Facebook at For more information, visit

    Everything you do, you do better with a good night's sleep.™