This small change could make a big difference in your mental health down the road.

By Abigail Wise
Updated January 23, 2015
older woman sleeping
Credit: B2M Productions/Getty Images

We invest in IRAs and mutual funds, so why not our health? Simply logging more sleep could lead to improved memory later in life, according to a new research review published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. Researchers at Baylor University's Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory looked at 50 years of sleep research. They discovered that middle-aged people who got plenty of sleep (the recommended amount is between seven and eight hours per night) generally experienced better memory and mental functioning 28 years later.

“People sometimes disparage sleep as ‘lost’ time,” Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor University’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory, said in a statement. It's true that we spend a lot of time in bed over the span of our lifetimes: Scullin calculated that the average 85-year-old will have spent 10,000 days total sleeping. But all those Zzs pay off.

As we know, sleep comes with a long list of health benefits. And even those who missed out on some shut-eye earlier in life can still reap many of the perks of clocking enough hours now. “Sleeping well still is linked to better mental health, improved cardiovascular health, and fewer, less severe disorders and diseases of many kinds,” Scullin said.

Unfortunately, sleep doesn't always come easily. If you're having trouble hitting the hay, try one of these simple tips to fall asleep faster and get a better night's rest:

  1. Unplug. The blue light that gadgets like phones and tablets produce can keep you awake longer and even hurt your sleep. Here's a simple rule to follow: No screens allowed in the bedroom. Instead, try reaching for an old-fashioned book.
  2. Lay off the booze. Alcohol can hurt your sleep in more ways than one. While indulging in some wine may make it easier to fall asleep initially, it can make you more likely to wake up in the middle of the night. It can also make it harder for your body to reach REM sleep, which may hurt both your mood and your memory. The safest bet is to avoid the habit of drinking before bed.
  3. Stop hitting snooze. As tempting as it may be to grab those few extra minutes when your alarm goes off, resist the urge to press the snooze button. Because those bonus minutes are filled with less restful sleep, odds are, you'll actually wake up feeling more tired than you would have if you'd gotten up when the alarm first beeped. If you feel exhausted every morning when your alarm sounds, bump up your bedtime so that you'll log more pillow time every night.