Research finds ‘short sleep duration’ among seniors linked to greater risk of chronic disease

Oct 22, 2022
Researchers analysed the impact that sleep duration had on the health of more than 7,000 men and women at the ages of 50, 60 and 70. Source: Getty Images.

It’s no secret that getting a good night’s sleep is of paramount importance when it comes to supporting overall health and well-being, not only does it provide the body with a chance to repair and recover it also supports brain development and cardiac function.

Now research, published in PLOS Medicine, has added further credence to the myriad of health benefits that sleep provides.

The Association of sleep duration at age 50, 60, and 70 years with risk of multimorbidity in the UK: 25-year follow-up of the Whitehall II cohort study found that people aged 50 and over who were getting less than five hours of sleep a night were at a greater risk of developing chronic disease.

Researchers analysed the impact that sleep duration had on the health of more than 7,000 men and women at the ages of 50, 60 and 70, examining the relationship between how long each participant slept for, mortality and whether they had been diagnosed with two or more chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

Study participants who reported getting five hours of sleep or less at age 50 were found to be 20 per cent more likely to have been diagnosed with a chronic disease and 40 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with two or more chronic diseases over 25 years, compared to those who got up to seven hours sleep.

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

Lack of sleep impacts.
Source: Getty Images.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Severine Sabia (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health, and Inserm, Université Paris Cité) said the “findings show that short sleep duration is also associated with multimorbidity”.

“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,” 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.

“To ensure a better night’s sleep, it is important to promote good sleep hygiene, such as making sure the bedroom is quiet, dark and a comfortable temperature before sleeping. It’s also advised to remove electronic devices and avoid large meals before bedtime. Physical activity and exposure to light during the day might also promote good sleep.”

On top of a greater risk of developing a chronic disease, the impacts of poor sleep can have a myriad of other negative effects on your well-being, however, working towards ensuring a proper night’s sleep can have just as many benefits.

Dr Andrew Bradbeer from Manse Medical, a respiratory and sleep medical practice, said “working to address problems with your sleep can really, really improve your wellbeing”.

“I often speak with people who feel that they are not able to enjoy their life in retirement as much as they had hoped because they are so fatigued,” Bradbeer said.

“Whether you want to be able to travel, or keep working, or participate in community life, or enjoy grandchildren, it’s all so much better if you can be confident that you can get a good night’s sleep!”

Sleep Expert Carmel Harrington, who has a PhD in Sleep Medicine considers sleep to be the “third pillar of health” and when we get enough sleep we are provided with a “fountain of energy” that sets us up for the day ahead.

“When we are getting the sleep we require, we can get up every morning and face both the joys and the challenges of the day,” Harrington said.

“So often, when sleep deprived, we manage to meet all the “have to’s” of the day, but when it comes to doing something fun and enjoyable like going to dinner with your partner, you just feel too tired to bother.”




IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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