Health

Sleeping 5 hours or less could put you at risk of more chronic diseases, study finds

Sleeping 5 hours or less could put you at risk of more chronic diseases, study finds

Sleeping just five hours or less each night is linked to a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with multiple chronic diseases, new research has found. (lightpoet, Shutterstock)

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TORONTO, Canada – A new study using data spanning 25 years has found that sleeping just five hours or less each night is linked to a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with multiple chronic diseases.

The study, which looked at the sleep duration of more than 7,000 participants aged 50, 60 and 70, was published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Medicine.

Those who reported regularly sleeping five hours or less at age 50 were 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with two or more chronic diseases in the past 25 years, compared to people who slept about seven hours a night, the research showed.

Severine Sabia of University College London’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health and lead author of the study said in a press release that “as people age, their sleep habits and sleep patterns change.”

But seven to eight hours each night is still recommended, regardless of age.

Previous research has shown that sleep duration above or below this recommended level may be associated with individual chronic diseases, Sabia noted.

A separate study published last week found that people who sleep less than seven hours had a higher prevalence of risk factors for heart diseaseand that poor sleep is common among Americans.

Sabia and her team set out to investigate whether there was a link between less sleep and the risk of developing multiple chronic conditions, and the researchers say they found just that.

“Our findings show that short sleep duration is also associated with multimorbidity,” Sabia said.

Multimorbidity simply means the simultaneous occurrence of two or more chronic conditions. It’s something that becomes more likely as we age, but researchers have expressed concern that it appears to be increasing in some regions.

“Multimorbidity is on the rise in high-income countries, and more than half of older adults now have at least two chronic diseases,” Sabia said. “This has proven to be a major public health challenge, as multimorbidity is associated with high utilization of health services, hospitalizations and disability.”

For this study, the researchers looked at data from the Whitehall II Cohort Study, a database of more than 10,000 people who were employed in the London offices of the British civil service at the start of the data collection phase in 1985.

Participants then signed up for follow-up to track their health as they age.

They self-reported sleep duration about six times between 1985 and 2016. The researchers looked at this data and isolated sleep duration data provided by participants when they were 50, 60, and 70 years old, looking at a total of about 7,000 participants.

They then looked at whether these participants had any chronic conditions, and, if so, when they developed.

Their definition of chronic disease included diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, depression, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and arthritis.

Supporting previous research on the risk of individual chronic diseases, sleeping five hours or less at age 50 was associated with a 20% risk of being diagnosed with a single chronic disease, compared to those getting the recommended hours.

They found that those who reported regularly sleeping five hours or less at ages 50, 60 and 70 had a 30-40% increased risk of multimorbidity compared to people who slept about seven hours a night.

They also found that those who reported five hours of sleep at age 50 were 25 percent more likely to later die at some point during the 25-year follow-up period—an association that may be linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases that can be responsible for mortality, the researchers explained.

But does sleeping longer than recommended have anything to do with chronic disease?

According to research, it could be when we get into our 60s and 70s, but maybe not before.

When the researchers looked at whether sleeping nine hours or more had negative health consequences, there was an association between the incidence of multimorbidity at ages 60 and 70.

However, they found no clear association between increased sleep duration at age 50 in healthy people and multimorbidity.

If the participants already had one chronic disease at age 50, the long sleepers had a 35% increased risk of developing another disease, perhaps due to underlying medical conditions, the researchers suggest.


This research adds to the growing body of research highlighting the importance of good sleep.

–Jo Whitmore, British Heart Foundation


Jo Whitmore, senior cardiology nurse at the British Heart Foundation, who was not involved in the research, said in a statement that “Getting enough sleep allows your body to rest.

“There are a number of other ways that poor sleep can increase the risk of heart disease or stroke, including increasing inflammation and blood pressure,” she added.

“This research adds to the growing body of research highlighting the importance of good sleep.”

Sabia said that good sleep requires “good sleep hygiene, such as making sure the bedroom is quiet, dark and a comfortable temperature before bed.

“Removing electronic devices and avoiding large meals before bed are also advised. Physical activity and exposure to light during the day can also promote good sleep.”

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