Mastering five key sleeping habits in middle-age can lower your risk of dying early by 30 percent, a study suggests.
Harvard University researchers claim they have carried out one of the most comprehensive pieces of sleep research to date.
They say that while previous research has looked at the duration of sleep, other bedtime behaviors have been neglected.
Using their new five-rule method, people can add up to five years onto their life, the researchers found.
People who hit all five criteria were 30 percent less likely to die for any reason, compared to those who met none or one of the sleep habits, the Harvard researchers found
They also estimated eight percent of all deaths from any cause in the US can be attributed to poor sleep patterns.
The five components are: getting seven to eight hours a night, having difficulty falling asleep no more than two nights a week, having trouble staying asleep no more than two times a week, not using any sleeping pills and feeling well-rested after waking up at least five days a week.
Sleep is essential downtime for the brain and body to recuperate and repair, and those who don’t get enough or wake up repeatedly may have higher risks of a host of illnesses including coronary heart disease and cancer.
But almost a third of US adults routinely fail to get the bare minimum of seven hours of sleep every night recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Harvard study is the first time a nationally representative sample has been used to examine how sleep habits more generally, rather than just sleep duration, might influence life expectancy.
Researchers from Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston looked at data from 172,321 people with an average age of 50 between 2013 and 2018.
The data came from people who took part in the National Health Interview Survey, a yearly general health survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics which includes questions on sleep.
The research team linked the data to the National Death Index records to investigate the link between people’s sleep factors and cause of death.
The five sleep habits to slash your risk of dying by 30 percent
- Getting seven to eight hours a night
- No difficulty falling asleep for more than two nights a week
- No trouble staying asleep for more than two times a week
- No sleep medication
- Feeling well-rested after waking up at least five days a week
Participants were given a score of zero or one for each of the five sleep criteria depending on whether they met it, with a maximum of five points.
Factors that might have increased people’s likelihood of dying were controlled, such as lower socioeconomic status, smoking and alcohol consumption and other medical conditions.
Those who hit all five criteria were 30 percent less likely to die for any reason, compared to those who met none or one of the sleep habits.
The top sleepers were also 21 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, 19 percent less likely to die from cancer.
They were also 40 percent less likely to die of causes other than heart disease or cancer.
Dr Frank Qian, physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and study co-author, said these other causes are likely to be accidents, infections or neurodegenerative diseases including dementia and Parkinson’s, but added that more research is needed.
Limitations of the study included the fact that the sleep habits were self-reported.
There was also no information available about the kind of sleep medication patients were using or how long for.
The impact of hitting all five sleep measures was greater for men than women. Life expectancy was 4.7 years higher for men and 2.4 years higher for women compared to those only reaching one or none of the targets.
More research is needed to determine why such differences between the sexes occur, however.
Study participants were followed for a median of 4.3 years, during which time 8,681 people died. Some 2,610 deaths (30 percent) were due to cardiovascular disease, 2,052 (24 percent) were down to cancer and 4,019 (46 percent) were because of other causes.
Past research have illustrated that getting too much or not enough sleep can have detrimental effects on the heart.
Dr Qian said: ‘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.
‘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.’
He added: ‘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.
‘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.’
The full results will be presented in New Orleans at the American College of Cardiology and World Heart Federation joint conference between 4-6 March.
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