The Relationship Between Sleep and Life Expectancy

woman with insomnia
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Can your sleep habits impact your longevity? Research has shown that if you sleep too much or not enough, your risk of death increases significantly. This could be a result of the impact of sleep itself on overall health or it could be because other diseases impact both longevity and sleep duration.​

Sleep Duration and Longevity

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 grew up in the same environment and the have the same (or similar) genetic makeups. Because of this, researchers can isolate the impact of a behavior (say, sleep duration) to an outcome (like longevity).

The participants were asked questions at the beginning of the study and 22 years later. 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 by 17 percent to 24 percent. The use of sleep medications also increased the risk of mortality by about a third.

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

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.

Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Getting enough sleep and being well rested can improve your overall health, which may help boost your longevity. However, not getting enough sleep can have detrimental effects on your health, and possibly your longevity.

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.

In short, sleep is at least an indicator of overall health. Changes in your sleep patterns, including unexplained short or long sleep duration should be taken seriously.

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Article Sources

  • Christer Hublin, MD, Ph.D.; Markku Partinen, MD, Ph.D.; Markku Koskenvuo, MD, Ph.D.; Jaakko Kaprio, MD, Ph.D. Sleep and Mortality: A Population-Based 22-Year Follow-Up Study. Journal SLEEP. Vol 30. No. 10. 1245-1253.
  • Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research; Colten HR, Altevogt BM, editors. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006. 3, Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders.