If you’re not getting good sleep, now is the time to change that. Getting less than five hours of sleep in midlife or old age is found to be linked with a higher risk of developing two or more chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke, a new study suggests.

Generally, multiple chronic conditions usually coexist within just one person, a condition commonly known as multimorbidity. But studies evaluating the link between how much a person sleeps and the likelihood of developing multiple diseases are rather inconsistent. The research team from University College London set out to fill this knowledge gap using data spanning over 25 years.

Researchers looked at the sleep durations of over 7,864 participants, all in the ages of 50, 60, and 70 from the Whitehall II cohort study and who were free from multimorbidity. The study authors defined multimorbidity as the presence of 2 or more chronic diseases out of a fixed list of 13 chronic diseases.

Using statistical analysis, they examined the link between participants’ sleep habits and whether they developed 2 or more chronic diseases over the course of 25 years including the death rates.

By the end of the study, the team found that those who reported sleeping less than five hours at age 50 had a 20 percent increased risk of developing chronic diseases and a 40 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with 2 or more chronic diseases after 25 years of follow-up, compared to those that slept seven hours.

The link was even increased up to 40 percent for those between ages 60 and 70.

In addition, they also found that not getting sufficient sleep at age 50 was associated with a 25 percent increased risk of death after the 25-year follow-up. This is only logical as short sleep leads to chronic diseases which could in turn result in subsequent death.

The researchers also assessed whether sleeping 9 hours or more had any link with multimorbidity as part of the study and found no clear associations at age 50. However, they note that if the person has been diagnosed with any chronic disease in the past, then the person is 35 percent more likely to experience eventual multimorbidity. The researchers suggest it could be due to the presence of an underlying condition influencing sleep.

Meanwhile, as people age, their sleep habits and sleep structure are altered. However, the recommended hours of sleep is generally 7 to 8 hours for older adults and anything below or above this current guideline could accompany 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,” the study authors write.

Overall, their findings add to the growing body of evidence showing a clear link between short sleep hours and the onset of multimorbidity. And also goes further to highlight how even a good rest shouldn’t be taken for granted. 

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