The Relationship Between Sleep and Life Expectancy

Do you live longer if you sleep more?

woman with insomnia
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Though it may seem counterintuitive, sleep is a busy time for your body. Various processes are at work that help everything from your cardiovascular system to your brain function at their best. It's because of this that getting enough sleep can improve your overall health, which may help boost your longevity. While inadequate sleep can have the opposite effect, so too can too much sleep.

Ultimately, finding the sweet spot where you're getting just the right amount of sleep for your body⁠ can contribute to a long and healthy life.

Research suggests that regularly sleeping for less than seven hours a night can have negative effects on the cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. Side effects of sleep deprivation can include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse.

What Causes the Link?

The increased risk for different sleep durations may be a cause of more or less sleep, but it may also be true that an underlying factor could cause both changes in sleep and changes in risk.

For example, if someone had heart disease, that illness could change how someone sleeps as well as change their risk of death.

What Is the Best Sleep Duration for Longevity?

Research indicates that the sweet spot for sleep duration is seven or eight hours a night. However, the amount of sleep that a person needs can vary from individual to individual.

In one study, researchers followed over 21,000 twins for more than 22 years. They asked questions about the twins' sleep habits and looked at their longevity. Twins make great research subjects because most of them grow up in the same environment and have the same, or similar, genetic makeups. Because of this, researchers can isolate the impact of a behavior (say, sleep duration) on an outcome (like longevity).

The participants were asked questions at the beginning and end of the study. The questions concerned sleep duration, use of sleep medications, and quality of sleep. What they found was that if people slept less than seven hours a night or more than eight hours a night, they had an increased risk of death (17% to 24%). Using sleep medications, which indicates trouble sleeping, also increased the risk of mortality by about a third.

How to Sleep Better Tonight

If you aren't currently getting the sleep you need, there are steps you can take clock more Zzzs:

  • Have a consistent to-be and wake-up time, even on weekends.
  • Avoid using electronics before bed and store them overnight somewhere other than your bedroom.
  • Keep your bedroom as dark as possible.
  • Don't eat or drink alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly.
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