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What’s the sleep ‘sweet spot’ to boost longevity?

New Harvard-led study says good sleep hygiene can add years to your life.

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Alex Cochran, Deseret News

While you’re resting, your body’s busy — clearing toxins, boosting immunity and improving cognition and hormone function. That’s why getting enough but not too much sleep could be key to a long and healthy life.

The Fountain of Youth is elusive. As SleepScore Labs reports, researchers are increasingly looking for “behaviors that can be harnessed to push future generation’s life expectancy.” And sleep is on the list.

This week, new research shows that “young people who have more beneficial sleep habits are incrementally less likely to die early.” And the Harvard-led research said about 1 in 12 deaths — regardless of the cause — are possibly linked to poor sleep. The findings were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session, which met with the World Congress of Cardiology.

Individual sleep needs vary some, but between seven and eight hours a night seems to be a solid, healthy pattern.

According to a doctor-reviewed article in Very Well Health, “The point of sleep is not just to help you feel more refreshed, but to allow the cells in your muscles, organs and brain to repair and renew each night. Sleep also helps regulate your metabolism and how your body releases hormones. When these processes are out of whack due to lack of sleep, it can increase your risk of health problems.”

The new study

The research included data from 172,321 people — their average age was 50 — who were part of the National Health Interview Survey between 2013 and 2019. That’s an annual survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics.

The study showed that five good sleep habits add close to 5 years to a man’s life expectancy and 2.5 years to a woman’s.

“If people have all these ideal sleep behaviors, they are more likely to live longer,” said study co-author Dr. Frank Qian, a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School and internal medicine resident physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, in a news release. “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.”

The five factors are:

  • Sleeping seven to eight hours a night.
  • Trouble falling asleep two times a week or less.
  • Trouble staying asleep no more than twice a week.
  • Not using sleep medication.
  • Feeling well-rested upon awakening at least five days a week.

The study controlled for factors that increase risk of dying, including lower socioeconomic status, smoking, alcohol consumption and other medical conditions.

“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.

He noted the study estimated longevity gains beginning at age 30, but said gains could be predicted for older ages, as well. “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 study’s limitation was that sleep habits were self-reported and could not be independently verified. Nor did they know anything about the types of sleep medicines used or use duration, the release said.

Other research suggests similar benefits from good sleep hygiene.

Per SleepScore Labs, “Scientists now believe that sufficient, consistent, and quality sleep may be key to unlocking an increase in global life expectancy. Research shows that those individuals able to successfully reach very old age — the rare centenarians that live to 100 — generally experience optimal sleep across the lifespan.”

Don’t oversleep

The Very Well Health article points out, too, that sleeping too long can be associated with psychiatric ills and higher BMI, “but not with the other chronic medical conditions related to too little sleep.”

The article cited a 2019 study in the journal Neurology that found those who sleep nine or 10 hours a night had a 23% higher incidence of stroke than those who slept seven to eight hours a night. And those who took long naps and slept long hours had an 85% increased risk of stroke.

The value of sleep is not a new discovery. In 2002, when researchers studied sleep patterns of older adults living in the village of Ogimi, Japan, where many live very long lives, they found a healthy pattern that included only short naps, less dozing and a lot more exercising and walking, among other factors. “The study’s results indicates a relationship between lifestyle and sleep health among the elderly and suggests that deterioration of sleep health is related to physical and mental health,” the researchers wrote of the study, published in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

Tips for good sleep

CNN said that you can “easily train your brain to better sleep.”

Those good sleep hygiene tips include going to bed at the same time most nights and getting up at the same time, too, “even on weekends and holidays.”

A sleep routine matters and distractions like screens should be avoided within an hour of going to bed. Relaxing activities like yoga, meditation or warm baths may help.

A cool, dark room is ideal. And if there’s a lot of noise, the article says to consider a sound blocker.

Per the article, “Avoid booze before bed — it may seem like you’re falling asleep more easily, but when your liver finishes metabolizing the alcohol at 3 a.m., your body will wake up, experts say.”