The Blog

Lack of Sleep Linked to Premature Death

British researchers just released a new study confirming what has long been thought to be true: sleeping less or more than six to eight hours is associated with premature death.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

It is said that moderation is key. This is true even when it comes to sleep.

British researchers just released a new study confirming what has long been thought to be true: sleeping less or more than 6 to 8 hours is associated with premature death.

So if you routinely find yourself sleep deprived because you really need eight hours but only get five... or if you're someone who likes to lie between the sheets for nine or 10 hours when your body is fine with just seven hours of sleep, then you may be setting yourself up for an early death.

Sorry to sound so dramatic.

The study actually discovered:

  • Sleeping less than 6 hours a night was associated to a 12 per cent higher chance of premature death compared to sleeping the recommended six to eight hours.
  • This finding was based on pooled data from more than 1.3 million participants worldwide.
  • Some potentially better news: although consistently sleeping 9 or more hours a night was also linked to an increased risk of death, the researchers concluded this was probably for different reasons than not sleeping enough.

Why the difference? Well, sleeping less-than-necessary may cause ill-health, whereas being a long sleeper (sleeping more than is biologically necessary) is believed to represent more an indicator of ill-health.

Short sleepers' poor sleep habits could be the chief culprit for triggering their medical conditions. Though sleep deprivation has been linked to a smorgasbord of medical ailments, from heart disease to obesity, the same cannot be said for sleeping too much.

Longer sleepers' time between the sheets may indicate that something else is wrong, fueling their need to catch those excess zzz's. Consistently sleeping nine or more hours (in adults) is a wake-up call for longer sleepers to see a doctor and find out if something other than a biological need for sleep is keeping them in bed.

Few people have the problem of banking too much sleep. It's the other end of the spectrum--sleeping too little--that drives a huge epidemic of so many of the sleep disorders in this country.

Unfortunately, the threat of a shorter life for being a short sleeper isn't a strong enough threat to get people to change their habits. If it were, then we'd see the same pressure to change habits among overweight people who live with a higher risk of illness and premature death due to their weight. Most habits are hard to break or change.

But I have to say, it's likely much easier to change a bad sleep habit than to change a bad eating habit. Don't you think?

Bottom line: find the happy medium between the short and long end of the sleep spectrum. Find your sweet spot for sleep.

Moderation is key. Moderation is magic. After all, if there's one time you want to go long, it's life.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™

This article on sleep deprivation is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog: by Sleep Doctor Michael Breus, PhD.