Sleeping Soundly for a Longer Life

People who have trouble falling or staying asleep may be more likely to die sooner from natural causes compared to those who sleep well.

You’ve heard it before: If you know what’s good for you, you’ll go to bed on time. Now, scientists are saying something more about going to sleep. And you may lose more than just TV privileges if you don’t listen. You might end up shaving years off your life.

Sleeping soundly might lead to a longer life.

For 19 years, psychologist Mary A. Dew of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and her colleagues tracked 186 healthy elderly adults, who were mostly between 60 and 80 years old. Part of the research involved monitoring brain waves of the people as they slept.

At the end of the study, the people who had trouble falling or staying asleep were more likely to die sooner from natural causes compared to those who slept well, the researchers reported.

Scientists aren’t yet sure why losing sleep might shorten lives. Some experts think sleep deprivation weakens the immune system, making it harder to fight off illnesses. Other studies have linked sleep disorders to heart and brain diseases.

The new study focused on older people. But there may be a lesson here for all of us: Work hard, play hard, sleep well. You just might wake up to a longer future.—E. Sohn

Going Deeper:

Bower, Bruce. 2003. Bad sleepers hurry death: Snoozing soundly staves off the Big Sleep. Science News 163(Feb. 8):85. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/20030208/fob4.asp .

Romanek, Trudee. 2002. Zzz. . . .: The Most Interesting Book You’ll Ever Read About Sleep. Toronto, Ont.: Kids Can Press.

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