People Who Do This Nightly Live For Up To 4.7 Years Longer On Average
Long over is the "we can sleep when we're dead" era of glamorizing sleepless nights. It now reads "work hard, rest harder" in the health and wellness zeitgeist, and our minds and bodies are better off for it.
Sleep gives our brains a chance to download the information from our day, flush out old cells, and regenerate new, healthy ones. It performs a similar reset for many of our most important organ systems, making it an essential part of overall health.
But is just spending seven to nine hours in bed each night enough? That's what experts in a recent study on five separate sleep factors and their effect on life span wanted to find out.
Five for five.
Recently published research presented at the American College of Cardiology's Annual Scientific Session Together With the World Congress of Cardiology1 looked at how overall sleep quality affected life span. It concluded that overall sleep quality meaningfully extended life span when compared to just one aspect of sleep, like total hours.
The study assessed the sleep quality of over 172,000 people and followed them to track the incidence of death over about four years.
To determine sleep quality, researchers looked at five main factors:
- Sleep duration (seven to eight hours being ideal)
- Difficulty falling asleep no more than two times per week
- Trouble staying asleep no more than two times per week
- Not needing sleep medication to fall asleep
- Feeling well rested after waking up
Men who recorded having all five favorable sleep factors averaged a 4.7-year-longer life span than those who had none or only one of these factors, while women who had none or only one of those factors averaged a 2.4-year-longer life span.
While more research is needed to rule out errors due to inaccuracies in self-reporting, this data suggests that it's important to prioritize overall sleep quality when it comes to living a longer, healthier life.
"I think these findings emphasize that just getting enough hours of sleep isn't sufficient. You really have to have restful sleep and not have much trouble falling and staying asleep," Frank Qian, M.D., an internal medicine resident physician at Beth Israel Deaconess who worked on the research, said in a statement.
Strategies for better snoozing.
Perfect sleep is a nearly unattainable goal, but better sleep habits can make a huge difference in the long run. You can improve your sleep hygiene one step at a time, with plenty of evidence-backed ways to tackle each of the five factors considered in the study:
- Sleep duration. This is a particularly tough one because it often comes down to how many hours we have in the day. If you're not getting an ideal amount of sleep, take a hard look at any time-sucks that could be cut out in favor of a couple of extra hours of zzz's. We're lookin' at you, Netflix binges and marathon social media scrolls.
- Difficulty falling asleep no more than two times per week. One of the best things you can do to help yourself fall asleep easier is to establish a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Beyond that, experts recommend avoiding blue light before bed, cutting out caffeine after midafternoon, and giving your eyes a healthy dose of sunlight first thing in the morning. Taking an effective sleep supplement with relaxing ingredients like magnesium or GABA can also help you fall asleep noticeably faster.
- Trouble staying asleep no more than two times per week. Do your best to get rid of any distractions that wake you up in the middle of the night. Front-load your water intake earlier in the day, invest in blackout curtains, and keep your devices on Do Not Disturb.
- Not needing sleep medication to fall asleep. If you rely on prescription medication to sleep, you could be at a greater risk for dementia. Talk to your doctor about making any changes to your medication routine.
- Feeling well rested after waking up. It can be difficult to pinpoint why we still feel tired after a night's rest. Avoid oversleeping and consider investing in a sleep tracker to gain detailed insights about how well you're sleeping and cycling through each stage of sleep. See a sleep specialist if things don't improve.
A recent study looked at participants' overall sleep quality (not just how many hours they slept per night) and found that when several positive sleep quality variables were self-reported, life span increased considerably. This means that taking a closer look at your sleep hygiene could make a real difference when it comes to avoiding the leading causes of death.
Jenny is a San Francisco-based mbg health contributor, content designer, and climate & sustainability communications specialist. She is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara. An avid open-water swimmer, Jenny has worked for healthy living and nutrition brands like Sun Basket, Gather Around Nutrition, and Territory Foods.