One third of a human’s life is devoted to sleep. Most of us know how important sleep is, but perhaps we do not know how increasingly important it becomes as we age. A new research study affirms how important it is to protect and prioritize sleep as you age. Researchers concerned with the prevalence of multimorbidity (i.e., the presence of two or more chronic diseases from a defined list of 13 chronic diseases) on the rise for older adults set out to explore potential risk factors. Although existing literature has found short and long sleep associated with individual chronic diseases, it is unclear what those sleep durations have in association with multimorbidity.
The researchers in this study set out by recruiting 7,000 men and women from Britain to extract sleep duration at age 50, 60, and 80 and their potential association with multimorbidity over 25 years of follow-up. Since baseline, follow-ups would have occurred in a clinical setting every 4 to 5 years. It is important to note that 99.9% of participants were linked to the UK National Health Service, which meant their health records were electronically linked to this study’s data. This was how researchers kept track of any chronic diseases or multimorbidity. Researchers found that sleep duration of five hours or less at age 50, 60, and 80 was associated with higher risk of multimorbidity. Researchers also found short sleep duration (less than 5 hours) at age 50 to be associated with a 20% increased risk of a first chronic disease. This seems to be evidence that short sleep duration is associated with the onset of chronic disease and multimorbidity.
Researchers note the caveat that although short sleep duration was associated with the onset of chronic disease and multimorbidity, it was not associated with mortality in those with the chronic disease(s). This means that this research cannot speak to the later stages of a chronic disease. What it does seem to suggest is that short sleep duration can become increasingly riskier as we age, especially around age 50.
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Sabia, S., Dugravot, A., Léger, D., Ben Hassen, C., Kivimaki, M., & Singh-Manoux, A. (2022). 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. PLOS Medicine, 19(10), e1004109. https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1004109