By Katabella Roberts
Sleeping for five hours or less a night if you’re age 50 or older could increase your risk of getting two or more chronic diseases as you age, research has found.
The study was published on Oct. 18 in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Researchers from University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom tracked the health and sleep duration of 7,864 men and women who were employed in the London offices of the British civil service over 30 years and who had no chronic disease at age 50.
Self-reported sleep duration was measured six times between 1985 and 2016, and data on sleep duration was extracted at ages 50, 60, and 70. Researchers looked at the data and examined its association with incident multimorbidity over 25 years of follow-up.
Incident multimorbidity is defined by researchers as having two or more of 13 chronic diseases, including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and kidney disease.
The study found that those who slept five hours or less around the age of 50 were 20 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with a chronic disease and 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with two or more chronic diseases over 25 years, than those who slept seven hours a night.
Additionally, sleeping for five hours or less at the age of 50, 60, and 70 was linked to a 30 to 40 percent increased risk of two or more chronic diseases when compared with those who slept for up to seven hours.
Americans Not Getting Enough Sleep
Researchers also found that a sleep duration of five hours or less at age 50 was associated with a 25 percent increased risk of death over the 25 years of follow-up, which they attributed to the increased risk of chronic disease.
The authors of the study acknowledged a number of limitations, including the small number of cases in the long sleep category, the self-reported nature of sleep data, and the possibility of reverse causality (the error of mistaking cause for effect and vice versa) that could arise from undiagnosed conditions.
“In this study, we observed short sleep duration to be associated with risk of chronic disease and subsequent multimorbidity but not with progression to death,” the authors noted. “There was no robust evidence of an increased risk of chronic disease among those with long sleep duration at age 50. Our findings suggest an association between short sleep duration and multimorbidity.”
Roughly one in three Americans aren’t getting enough sleep or rest either at night or during the day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have chronic, or ongoing, sleep disorders.
Not sleeping enough can lead to physical and mental health problems, and increase the likelihood of death, according to the CDC.
Adults aged 18–60 years should get at least seven hours of sleep per night for optimal health, experts say, while those aged 61–64 years should get between seven to nine hours. Those aged 65 years and older need about seven to eight hours a night.