Public Health Director Dr. David Blodgett advises us that there are four key components to living a long life and avoiding crippling diseases.

  1. Eating right (getting enough fruits and vegetables)
  2. Exercise
  3. Keeping weight within a healthy range
  4. Avoiding all forms of tobacco

"Avoiding Alzheimer's, dementia and other chronic diseases ... comes down to these four things," he said. "Basically, having good healthy life habits."

But Blodgett, appearing on the Andy Griffin Show, said there is a fifth component that is so often overlooked, but is incredibly important.

"More and more I am convinced that getting the proper amount of sleep has a huge bearing on our health," he said.

The sleep chart put out by health professionals including the World Health Organization is this:

  • Newborns: 14 – 17 hours (half during naps)
  • Infants: 12 – 16 hours (4 – 5 hours during naps)
  • Toddlers: 11 – 14 hours (2 – 3 hours during naps)
  • Preschoolers: 10 – 13 hours
  • Children 6 to 12: 9 – 12 hours
  • Teenagers: 8 – 10 hours
  • Adults: 7– 9 hours

It's important to note that these are guidelines and every person is different. But these are good ranges for all people. Sleep is the time when your body rests, but also recovers and regenerates.

As for how to make sleep more effective, sleep scientists generally recommend these basic things:

  • Avoid screen time before bed -- even TV time (as well as phones, computers, etc.) confuses the body into producing less melatonin, a chemical that aides sleeping
  • Create a "sleep environment" -- Bedrooms should be cool and dark and beds should not be used for movie marathons or other non-bed activities
  • Caffeine (and alcohol) should be avoided in the evening -- Both are incredibly disruptive to sleep cycles
  • Set a regular sleep schedule -- Try to go to bed and arise at about the same time every day
  • Work out -- Sleep will come much easier if your body is tired, just don't exercise too close to bedtime, which can wake you up
  • Cut down on stress -- This is a hard one, but many people lose sleep worrying or thinking about the previous day's troubles (or the problems coming up the next day)
  • Avoid naps -- As tempting as it is to grab a few winks during the day, adults who get enough nighttime sleep don't need naps and a daytime nap can make it really hard to sleep at night.

According to the Mayo Clinic, "You might not be able to control the factors that interfere with your sleep. However, you can adopt habits that encourage better sleep."

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