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Poor sleep linked to chronic illnesses

Posted on the 7th November 2022

Poor Sleep Illness

Over-50s who sleep for under five hours per night may have an elevated risk of developing at least two chronic illnesses, according to new research.

Researchers from Université Paris Cité and University College London looked at self-reported sleep duration data from nearly 8,000 adults in the UK, measured at ages 50, 60 and 70.

Participants were checked for chronic health conditions – including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease – over two decades of follow-up.

The team of scientists found that, at age 50, those with a sleep duration of up to 5 hours had a 30 per cent greater risk of being diagnosed with chronic illnesses over the 25-year follow-up period, compared with those who regularly got 7 hours’ sleep.

At age 60, the risk of developing chronic illnesses increased to 32 per cent, and to 40 per cent for those aged 70.

Researchers also found that short sleep duration in midlife and old age brought a 25 per cent increased risk of mortality, due to the increased likelihood of developing multiple health problems.

Lead author, Dr Severine Sabia, emphasises that multimorbidity is on the rise in high-income countries, with more than half of older adults now suffering from at least two chronic diseases. This poses a major challenge for public health, placing a significant burden on health services.

Speaking of the results, which were published in the journal PLoS Medical, Dr Sabia said: “As people get older, their sleep habits and sleep structure change. However, it is recommended to sleep for seven to eight hours a night – as sleep durations above or below this have previously been associated with individual chronic diseases.”
Based on the study’s results, researchers recommend practising good sleep hygiene, by avoiding electronics before bedtime and making sure that bedrooms are quiet and dark.

Adequate sleep plays a crucial role in affecting humans’ memory, metabolism, mood and immune systems. Previous research has indicated that sleeping with the light on can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Related: Is it ‘lights out’ for eight hours sleep?

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