Sleeping Late, Drinking Wine: The Fountain of Youth?

This picture is of Grigoris Tsahas, a 99 year-old man who lives in Ikaria, Greece. I think he looks pretty freaking good for 99, don’t you?

Ikaria is a breezy, warm island located on the eastern side of the Aegean sea, just west of Turkey. A recent article in the New York Times Magazine, “The Island Where People Forget To Die“, highlighted the lifestyle of the astounding number of nonagenarians (people in their 90’s) and centenarians (people in their 100’s) who live on the island.

According to the article, people in Ikaria are “reaching the age of 90 at two and a half times the rate Americans do… they were also living about 8 to 10 years longer before succumbing to cancers and cardiovascular disease, and they suffered less depression and about a quarter the rate of dementia.”

Who The Ikarians Are
So who are these magical elderly people and what are they eating?! Well, they’re relatively poor grape growers, animal tenders, gardeners, and wine drinkers who sleep a lot and eat relatively little meat. Sorry, guys. They’re not Paleo. They’re seemingly happy people who spend time drinking with their friends until the wee hours of the night. They wake up late and they take a nap every day. A doctor who works on the island said he doesn’t even open up his practice until 11am because nobody comes before then. And people don’t stress about time. The doctor says, “When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don’t care about the clock here.” They don’t seem too stressed. I think that’s their first secret.

What They Eat
Their breakfast is goat’s milk, wine, sage tea or coffee, honey and whole wheat homemade bread. Lunch is typically beans (lentils, garbanzos), potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion or a spinach-like green called horta) and whatever seasonal vegetables their garden produces. Dinner is often bread and goat’s milk. At Christmas and Easter, they slaughter the family pig and eat small bits of larded pork over the next few months. They eat fish twice a week, other meat 5 times a month, lots of veggies, and tons of olive oil. A lot of them start their day with a spoonful of raw honey, likely produced in their own neighborhood. They regularly drink quite a bit of wine with friends, and they end their day with a special tea made of marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, lemon, and dandelion, all of which are considered medicinal plants.

So could I wax poetic about how the Paleo diet isn’t the elixir of long life? That people can eat all kinds of whole food traditional diets and live very long, healthy lives? I could, and it’s true, but I’m here to rationalize my sleep schedule.

Why I’m Awesome Like The Ikarians
My naturopath recently told me that at some point I need to be an adult and start waking up early and going to bed at a very boring hour. I told him I’ve always been a night person, but that I’d consider considering it. Instead, my sleep schedule has slipped more and more into teenager – or should I say Ikarian – status. Lately I go to sleep around 2am and wake up around 10am. Sometimes I allow myself to sleep even later than that because, well, I don’t set an alarm. For the sake of feeling socially acceptable, I’d love to be one of those people who naturally wakes up at 6am every day, bright-eyed and ready. I just have never been that person.

I think the concept of a responsible “adult” sleep schedule was forced upon us at the onset of the industrial age, along with outrageously early and long school hours, daylight savings time, and the expectation that people should work at least 9 hours a day during “work hours”. Yeah, our productivity is certainly improved and we’ve made some great advancements on many fronts because of these standards. But our health is declining rapidly and I’m pre-tty sure there’s a correlation there.

What about having a good life and getting some much needed sleep on a regular basis? What happened to valuing life outside of work?

Their Sleep Schedule
Luckily for the long-lived, healthy and happy Ikarians, this is not the Ikarian way! They wake up late, milk their goats for some late breakfast, go to their gardens or vineyards and work until mid-afternoon, have a late lunch, go to sleep for a while, then wake up and eat and drink with their friends and family until late at night. There has to be a correlation here between long, healthy lives and not being stressed out and under-slept all the time.

Ikarian named Evangelos Fradelos, 96 years old

My Schedule
I, too, wake up late, milk my refrigerator for a late breakfast, do some combination of working, exercising, and eating throughout the rest of the day, then hang out with my husband and/or friends (with or without wine), then read an awesome book and go to sleep really late. I’ve been brainwashed out of taking naps, but other than that my schedule is more similar to theirs than to most adults I know. I’m a productive person, too. I wrote a book on this kind of schedule in 3 months. I’m a productive member of society AND I wake up late. It can happen and I wish more people would embrace the idea.

So judge me if you want to, but I’m pretty happy with this sleep schedule. Maybe I’ll go live (for a hundred years) on Ikaria where people understand me better…

Share it

Subscribe to the blog


  1. ~ callee ~

    I read this article too! It was a rather fascinating read and I really liked this quote: ” “The problem is, it’s difficult to change individual behaviors when community behaviors stay the same.”

    I do believe that is true – our culture is vastly different from theirs. In my minor amounts of research about the Paleo lifestyle, it seems like those “going Paleo” seem to have an easier time of changing behaviors because they tend to band together.

    Perhaps other groups of lifestyle changers have a similar mindset, but it seems to be less in the forefront of their community.

    • Neely

      Callee – That was one of my favorite quotes of the article too! I meant to say something about it and then my blog post got too long :)

  2. Maria

    Well they may not eat Paleo, but, nor do they eat processed food. I’ll put my money on that for their longevity.

  3. Lulu

    I really liked this blog/article. Having a relaxed concept of time could make a great difference in our society. Like Neely Queen I am a night person and need to go to bed at 2am and get up late like teenagers and Ikarians do – unforunately I have been getting up at 7am to go to school/work all my life and feel chronically tired. I Cannot see why schools and offices cannot open at midday.

    No amount of healthy diet, exercise, non-smoking, etc can compensate for lack of sleep and stress. It would be great if our society could establish a different relationship with time. It is working for the Ikarians. A refreshing read!

  4. K

    I can definitely relate! I find that I’m much more motivated to do things at night, and creativity always strikes in the early hours of the morning.

    Before having kids I was a night owl, but now I have 3 kids and so I have to stick to a ‘normal’ schedule to get them ready for school, drop them at school etc, as my husband leaves for work at 5:30am…which means I have to go to bed earlier (well, I try to anyway!) It’s difficult because I feel like I’m fighting my body clock.

  5. Yana

    This is awesome!
    My Greek friend just opened my eyes to this island, telling me it is the place where you open up for business at 9pm and sleep during the day. Instantly astounded I Googled it!… What a fascinating place…and a great article.

    Thank you! :)

  6. Amy

    I can totally relate to this article!! I love good (unprocessed) food, good wine, and sleeping in. I might wake up late (on weekends) but am productive until late night. Thanks for the article. Oh, and did I mention that I love wine…

  7. Gina

    sorry I’m late… but I was taking my time ;-)
    This is a great blog.

    I love it when I read any article that validates what life is all about. Light stress, more rest, active work outdoors during the day, nourishing the body from the bounties of your labor; add spending time with family, friends and wine an you’ve got it all figured out. I think sometimes we look down on those who live meekly, but in actuality they are truly the richest.

Leave a Comment