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A Good Night's Sleep Can Add Years to Your Life

Beth Bradford

3/7/23, 11:44 AM

Try adopting good sleep habits early in your life

Good sleep can have a positive effect on your heart health and overall well-being, potentially even your lifespan, according to new research showcased by the American College of Cardiology. According to the study, young people who sleep well are measurably less likely to die prematurely—the data indicating that poor sleep patterns may account for up to 8% of all deaths from any cause.

Researchers used data collected from 172,321 respondents who took part in the National Health Interview Survey between 2013 and 2018. These surveys are conducted each year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, and they include a variety of questions related to sleep habits. This is thought to be the first study of its kind that utilizes a nationally representative sample to explore how different sleep behaviors—not just quantity—can influence life expectancy.

“We saw a clear dose-response relationship, so the more beneficial factors someone has in terms of having higher quality of sleep, they also have a stepwise lowering of all cause and cardiovascular mortality,” said Frank Qian, MD, an internal medicine resident physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the study. “I think these findings emphasize that just getting enough hours of sleep isn’t sufficient. You really have to have restful sleep and not have much trouble falling and staying asleep."

The majority (66%) of the participants identified as White, while 14.5% were Hispanic, 12.6% Black, and 5.5% Asian. By cross-referencing with National Death Index records (through December 31st 2019) researchers were able to establish links between individual and combined sleep factors with all-cause mortality rates as well as deaths due to particular causes such as cardiovascular disease (30%), cancer (24%), or other causes (46%).

Researchers created a low-risk sleep score which took into account factors such as ideal sleep duration of 7-8 hours per night; difficulty falling asleep no more than twice a week; trouble staying asleep no more than twice per week; not using any sleeping aids or medication; feeling well-rested five days a week or more; plus accounting for other risk factors like lower socioeconomic status, smoking/alcohol consumption, or other medical conditions). Men with five favorable low-risk sleep behaviors had an increased life expectancy rate of 4.7 years compared with those who had none/one factor (2.4 years increase among women).

“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,” Qian said, adding that for the present analysis they 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. 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.”

Though this study was based on self-reported information with no access to objective measuring or types/frequency of sleeping aids used, it does point out how easily poor sleep habits can be addressed within clinical settings between patients and clinicians. Further research is needed to gain greater insight into potential longevity gains at different ages or sex differences observed throughout this study.

“If people have all these ideal sleep behaviors, they are more likely to live longer,” Qian said. “So, if we can improve sleep overall, and identifying sleep disorders is especially important, we may be able to prevent some of this premature mortality.”

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