By Eric Ralls staff writer

Have you ever noticed how a well-maintained classic car can turn heads and exude a timeless charm? Its age has become subjective. Just like a vintage automobile that has been meticulously cared for, feeling young is not merely a superficial notion — it is intrinsically connected to tangible health benefits.

Subjective age, the internal gauge that measures how old we perceive ourselves to be, transcends the realm of simple self-perception.

Much like how a classic car’s performance and longevity are tied to its upkeep, research has revealed that individuals who feel younger than their chronological age tend to enjoy longer lifespans, superior mental and physical well-being, and a host of positive psychological attributes.

These findings have led experts to propose the integration of subjective age as a biophysical indicator of aging, serving as a vital component of comprehensive health assessments.

Young and Youthful Woman

Sleep-age connection

Researchers at Stockholm University have discovered that sleep affects how old you feel. The study, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, reveals that feeling sleepy can make you feel ten years older.

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

Power of a good night’s sleep

In the first study, 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.

The results showed that for each night with insufficient sleep in the past month, participants felt on average 0.23 years older.

To further investigate the causal relationship between sleep and subjective age, the researchers conducted a second study involving 186 participants aged 18 to 46.

Participants restricted their sleep for two nights, with only four hours in bed each night, and another time slept sufficiently for two nights, with nine hours in bed each night.

The findings were striking. After sleep restriction, participants felt on average 4.4 years older compared to when having enjoyed sufficient sleep.

Staying young at heart by safeguarding your 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,” says Leonie Balter.

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.

The implications of this study are clear. “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,” states Leonie Balter.

Unlocking the secrets of age by sleeping

In a world where we are constantly searching for the fountain of youth, it turns out that the secret to feeling young again might be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep.

By prioritizing our sleep and ensuring that we get enough rest each night, we can not only feel more alert and energized but also maintain a youthful sense of age.

So, the next time you find yourself longing for the vitality of your younger years, remember that the key to unlocking that feeling might just be a few extra hours of shut-eye.

More about subjective age

As discussed above, subjective age refers to how old an individual feels, regardless of their chronological age. It is a personal perception that can be influenced by various factors, such as physical health, mental well-being, and life experiences.

People often report feeling younger or older than their actual age, and this subjective age can have significant implications for their overall health and quality of life.

Benefits of feeling younger

Numerous studies have shown that feeling younger than one’s chronological age is associated with a range of positive outcomes.

Individuals who feel younger tend to have better physical and mental health, higher levels of life satisfaction, and a more positive outlook on life.

They are also more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, such as regular exercise and maintaining a balanced diet.

Impact of subjective age on longevity

Research suggests that subjective age may even predict longevity. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that individuals who felt younger than their actual age had a lower risk of mortality compared to those who felt older.

This finding highlights the potential importance of subjective age as a biophysical marker of aging and its relevance in health assessments.

Factors influencing subjective age

Several factors can influence an individual’s subjective age, including:

  • Physical health: Chronic illnesses, disabilities, and poor physical functioning can make people feel older than their chronological age.
  • Mental health: Depression, anxiety, and stress can contribute to feeling older, while positive emotions and a sense of purpose can help individuals feel younger.
  • Social connections: Strong social support and engaging in meaningful relationships can promote a youthful sense of age.
  • Life experiences: Major life events, such as retirement, the loss of a loved one, or becoming a grandparent, can impact how old an individual feels.

Harnessing the power of subjective aging

In summary, subjective age is a fascinating concept that has garnered increasing attention from researchers and healthcare professionals alike.

By understanding the factors that influence subjective age and its potential implications for health and well-being, we can develop strategies to promote a more youthful mindset and improve overall quality of life.

Encouragingly, recent research on the link between sleep and subjective age suggests that we may have more control over how old we feel than previously thought.

The full study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences.


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and