Five Key Sleeping Habits That Can ‘Add Years’ to Your Life Identified by Scientists

​Isabella and Zsa Fischer

If you are young or old, you can improve your overall health—and probably add years to your life—when you cultivate a full array of good sleep habits.

The new research is being presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session next month.

The study found that young people who have more beneficial sleep habits are incrementally less likely to die early.

Moreover, the data suggest that about 8% of deaths from any cause could be attributed to poor sleep patterns.

Life expectancy was 4.7 years greater for men—and 2.4 years greater for women—who reported having all these five quality sleep measures, compared with those who had none or just one of the five favorable elements of low-risk sleep.

“If people have all these ideal sleep behaviors, they are more likely to live longer,” said study co-author Frank Qian, MD at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The five key habits are:

seven or eight hours of sleep per 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.

“I think these findings emphasize that just getting enough hours of sleep isn’t sufficient,” said Dr Qian, a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School. “You really have to have restful sleep and not have much trouble falling and staying asleep.”

One limitation of the study is that no information was available about the types of sleep aid or medicine used or how often or long participants used them.

The researchers looked at figures from more than 172,300 American adults, with an average age of 50, who participated in an annual health survey between 2013 and 2018.

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Participants were asked questions about sleep habits and were followed for an average of 4.3 years during which time more than 8,600 died. Of the deaths, 30 percent were from cardiovascular disease, 24 percent were from cancer and 46 percent were due to other causes.

Previous studies have shown that getting too little sleep can negatively affect the heart.

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.

Qian said this is the first study to his knowledge to use a nationally representative population to look at how several sleep behaviors, and not just sleep duration, might influence life expectancy. About two-thirds of study participants self-reported as being White, 14.5% Hispanic, 12.6% Black and 5.5% Asian.

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The research team found that, compared to people who had zero to one favorable sleep factors, those who had all five were 30 percent less likely to die for any reason, 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.

He says 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.”

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He explained 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,” Quon said in a press release, ahead of his presentation to the American College of Cardiology’s annual Scientific Session in New Orleans next month.

“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 physicians will start talking about sleep during doctor visits as part of their overall health assessment and disease management strategies.

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