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A large study published Tuesday provides evidence that people age 50 and older who sleep five hours or less at night have a greater risk of developing multiple chronic diseases as they age when compared with peers who get a longer night’s rest.
The study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, took a closer look at a group of nearly 8,000 civil servants in the United Kingdom who had no chronic disease at age 50. Scientists asked participants to report on how much sleep they got during clinic examinations, which happened every four to five years for the next 25 years.
For those whose sleep was tracked at age 50, people who slept five hours or less a night faced a 30% greater risk that they would develop multiple chronic diseases over time, compared with those who slept at least seven hours a night. At 60, it was a 32% increased risk, and at age 70 it was a 40% greater risk.
Diseases for which there was a greater risk included diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, depression, dementia, mental disorders, Parkinson’s and arthritis.
Earlier research has shown that adults who do not get enough sleep – about seven to eight hours a night – have a greater chance of developing chronic diseases that also include obesity and high blood pressure, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unlike other studies, this one did not find that those who slept longer than nine hours had health problems, but there were few people in the study that slept that much and that may have impacted the results.
The study has some additional limitations. Most of the subjects in the study were White men – only about a third were women. The authors say the civil servants also tend to be a little healthier than the general population. The study relied on self-reported data, which is considered less reliable than if people were in a sleep study in which scientists could directly observe how the person was sleeping.
“These findings support the promotion of good sleep hygiene on both primary and secondary prevention by targeting behavioral and environmental conditions that affect sleep duration and quality,” the study concluded.