Less Than Five Hours of Sleep Linked to Risk of Chronic Diseases

Getting less than five hours of sleep is linked to a higher risk of developing at least two chronic diseases in people aged 50 to 70, a study suggests.

The study from University College London, published in PLOS Medicine, included more than 7,000 men and women aged 50, 60, and 70.

Researchers examined the relationship between participants’ sleep duration, mortality, and whether they had been diagnosed with two or more chronic diseases (multimorbidity) over the course of 25 years.

The study found that sleeping for five hours or less at the age of 50, 60, and 70 was linked to a 30% to 40% increased risk of multimorbidity compared with those who slept for up to seven hours.

Getting five or fewer hours of sleep at age 50 was associated with a 25% increased mortality risk. According to the researchers, as short sleep duration increases the risk of chronic diseases, the risk of death also increases.

“Multimorbidity is on the rise in high-income countries, and more than half of older adults now have at least two chronic diseases. This is proving to be a major challenge for public health, as multimorbidity is associated with high healthcare service use, hospitalizations, and disability,” said Dr. Severine Sabia, lead author of the study.

To get a good night’s sleep, Harvard University researchers recommend the following:

  • Exercise as it boosts natural sleep hormones such as melatonin. However, exercising late in the evening may disrupt nighttime sleep.
  • Reserve bed for sleep and sex, so it would become a stimulus for sleep. It is important to avoid working and watching late-night TV in bed. Ideally, the bedroom environment should be quiet, dark, and cool.
  • Start a sleep ritual; for example, drink a glass of warm milk or take a bath. Moreover, destress yourself before going to bed, for example, by learning breathing techniques.
  • Avoid coffee, alcohol, and eating a big meal within two to three hours of bedtime, but don’t go to bed with an empty stomach.

Adults aged 18 and 64 should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep, while for those 65 and older, seven to eight hours is recommended.

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