(CNN)– Do you want to live longer? Then make sleep a priority: Following five good sleep habits can add nearly five years to a man’s life expectancy and nearly 2.5 years to a woman’s, according to a new study.
“If people have all of these ideal sleep behaviors, they’re more likely to live longer,” said study co-author Dr. Frank Qian, a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a resident physician in internal medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
“If we can improve sleep in general, and identifying sleep disorders is especially important, we may be able to prevent some of this premature mortality,” Qian said in a statement.
What is there to do? First, make sure you get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. That’s hard for a lot of people: 1 in 3 Americans is sleep deficient, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But it is not enough to spend more time in bed: you also have to have a restful and uninterrupted sleep most of the time. That means don’t wake up during the night or have trouble falling asleep more than twice a week. You also have to feel well rested at least five days a week when you wake up. And finally, you can not use drugs to fall asleep.
“We’re talking not just about quality and quantity of sleep, but about regularity, about sleeping just as well night after night,” says Raj Dasgupta, MD, a sleep specialist and associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. He did not participate in the study.
“Recent studies have shown that irregular sleep timing and duration have been linked to metabolic abnormalities and increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” he said.
“Encouraging maintenance of regular sleep schedules with consistent sleep durations may be an important part of lifestyle recommendations for heart disease prevention.”
Difference between men and women
The preliminary study, presented Thursday at an annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, analyzed data from more than 172,000 people who answered sleep questionnaires between 2013 and 2018 as part of the National Health Interview Survey. The study is conducted by the CDC and the National Center for Health Statistics.
Each of the five healthy sleep habits — falling asleep easily, staying asleep, getting seven to eight hours of sleep, waking up refreshed and forgoing sleep medications — was assigned a number.
People were scored on the number of habits they had.
About four years later, the researchers compared those scores with records from the National Death Index to see if their sleep habits contributed to premature death from certain diseases or from any other cause.
Next, the team considered other potential causes of increased risk of death, such as alcohol use, lower socioeconomic status, and existing illnesses.
“Compared with individuals who had zero to one favorable sleep factors, those with all five were 30% less likely to die from any cause, 21% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, 19% less likely to die from cancer and 40% less likely to die from causes other than heart disease or cancer,” according to a statement about the study.
Men who followed all five healthy sleep habits had a 4.7-year longer life expectancy than people who followed none or only one of the five low-risk sleep items, according to the study.
The impact of healthy sleep habits was much smaller in women: those who followed all five sleep habits gained 2.4 years compared to those who followed none or only one.
“That was an interesting part of the study for me, and I hope we can find that answer with more research,” Dasgupta said. One possible reason for that gender difference, she added, could be the difficulty of screening women for obstructive sleep apnea, a life-threatening condition in which breathing stops every few minutes. The more severe the apnea, the greater the risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
“Women with obstructive sleep apnea are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed because they don’t have the classic symptoms seen in men,” says Dasgupta. “Maybe we need to ask different questions or look at different parameters, or is there something we’re not considering?”
good sleep hygiene
Would your score be less than five? Don’t worry: the good news is that you can easily train your brain to sleep better by following what’s called good “sleep hygiene.” It’s important to go to bed at the same time most nights and get up at the same time most mornings, even on weekends and holidays.
Make sure your sleeping environment is optimal—cooler and darker is better—and block out noise or try a sound system. Avoid drinking alcohol before bed: It may seem like you fall asleep more easily, but when your liver finishes metabolizing alcohol at 3 a.m., your body will wake up, experts say.
Establish a sleep routine, with no blue lights or distractions, at least an hour before bed. Try meditation, yoga, tai chi, hot baths…anything that relaxes you is great.
According to Qian, parents and caregivers can learn these habits and teach them to their children so they have a better chance of living longer.
“Even from a young age, if people can develop these good sleep habits – getting enough sleep, making sure they sleep without too many distractions, and having good sleep hygiene in general – this can greatly benefit their overall health. long term,” he said.
“Just as we like to say that it’s never too late to exercise or quit smoking, it’s never too early. And sleep should be discussed and evaluated more often.”