BOSTON — Following five key sleeping habits can add years to your life, according to research. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston report that the benefits of good rest reduce the risk of death from any cause by up to 30 percent.
Scientists reveal the five key habits as:
- seven or eight hours of sleep a night
- difficulty falling asleep no more than twice a week
- trouble staying asleep no more than twice a week
- not using any sleep medication
- feeling well rested when waking up at least five days a week.
Overall, life expectancy was 4.7 years greater for men and 2.4 years greater for women who reported having all five quality sleep measures, compared with those who had none or only one of the five favorable elements of low-risk sleep.
Previous studies have shown that getting too little or too much sleep can negatively affect the heart. It has also been widely reported that sleep apnea, a disorder that causes people to pause or stop breathing while asleep, can lead to several heart conditions, including high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and heart attacks.
‘Just getting enough hours of sleep isn’t sufficient’
Researchers behind this latest study report that young people who have more beneficial sleep habits are incrementally less likely to die young. The findings also suggest that around 8 percent of deaths from any cause could be attributed to poor sleep patterns.
“I think these findings emphasize that just getting enough hours of sleep isn’t sufficient,” says Qian. “You really have to have restful sleep and not have much trouble falling and staying asleep.”
The researchers looked at figures from more than 172,000 American adults, with an average age of 50, who participated in an annual health survey between 2013 and 2018. Participants were followed for an average of 4.3 years, during which 8,681 died. Of the deaths, 30 percent were from cardiovascular disease, 24 per ent were from cancer and 46 percent were due to other causes.
Researchers assessed the ﬁve different factors of quality sleep using a low-risk sleep score they created based on answers collected as part of the survey. Each factor was assigned zero or one point for each, for a maximum of five points, which indicated the highest quality sleep.
“If we can improve sleep overall, and identifying sleep disorders is especially important, we may be able to prevent some of this premature mortality,” says Qian, a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The study reveals that, compared to people who had zero to one favorable sleep factors, those who had all five were 30 percent less likely to die from any cause. They’re also 21 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, 19 percent less likely to die from cancer, and 40 percent less likely to die of causes other than heart disease or cancer.
Qian says the other deaths are likely due to accidents, infections or neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Still, he believes more research is needed to determine why men with all five low-risk sleep factors had double the increase in life expectancy compared with women who had the same quality sleep.
“Even from a young age, if people can develop these good sleep habits of getting enough sleep, making sure they are sleeping without too many distractions and have good sleep hygiene overall, it can greatly benefit their overall long-term health,” he says.
He explains that for the present analysis, the team estimated gains in life expectancy starting at age 30, but the model can be used to predict gains at older ages too.
“It’s important for younger people to understand that a lot of health behaviors are cumulative over time,” notes Qian. “Just like we like to say, ‘it’s never too late to exercise or stop smoking,’ it’s also never too early. And we should be talking about and assessing sleep more often.”
The researchers hope patients and doctors will start talking about sleep as part of their overall health assessment and disease management planning.
Dr Qian is due to present the findings at the American College of Cardiology’s annual Scientific Session in New Orleans next month.