A Daily Habit That Lowers Risk of Early Death and Cancer: Study

According to research, a daily habit cultivated regularly can potentially increase the length and quality of life as well as lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer—the habit is simply getting a good night’s sleep.

In a study, the research team analyzed data from 172,321 individuals who took part in the National Health Interview Survey between 2013 and 2018, which is conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) annually. The study concluded that young people who observe more beneficial sleep habits are “incrementally less likely to die early,” said a Feb. 23 news release. In addition, the researchers attributed 8 percent of deaths from any cause to poor sleep patterns.

Researchers classified the quality of sleep using five criteria—an ideal sleep duration of seven to eight hours per day; facing difficulty in sleeping no more than two times per week; not using sleep medication; feeling well-rested after waking up at least five days in a week; and facing trouble staying asleep no more than twice per week. Scoring one point on each of the criteria indicated the highest quality of sleep.

Over a period of 4.3 years, 8,681 individuals from the survey died, of which 2,610 deaths were attributed to cardiovascular disease, 2,052 to cancer, and the remaining to other causes.

The study found that individuals who scored in all five criteria were 30 percent less likely to die for any reason when compared to people who scored only in a single criterion or scored none at all.

The high scorers were also found to be 21 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, 19 percent less likely to die from cancer, and 40 percent less likely to die due to other causes.

The new study will be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific session together with the World Congress of Cardiology set to be held in March.

Good Quality Sleep

The study also found that men had better gains from good sleep than women. Life expectancy among men who scored in all five sleep quality criteria grew by 4.7 years compared to men who only scored in a single criterion or none. For women, the life expectancy gain was 2.4 years.

Frank Qian, a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the study, pointed out that if people can improve their sleep overall, it is possible to prevent some of the “premature mortality.”

“Even from a young age, if people can develop these good sleep habits of getting enough sleep, making sure they are sleeping without too many distractions and have good sleep hygiene overall, it can greatly benefit their overall long-term health,” Qian said.

“It’s important for younger people to understand that a lot of health behaviors are cumulative over time. Just like we like to say, ‘it’s never too late to exercise or stop smoking,’ it’s also never too early. And we should be talking about and assessing sleep more often.”

Importance of Sleeping

Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, who studies sleep at the University of Rochester, points out that people typically only see sleep as a “down time” when the brain needs to get rest. But this is a wrong belief since the brain is working even while a person sleeps, she notes.

Her research has shown that the brain has a drainage system that removes toxins while a person is sleeping. “When we sleep, the brain totally changes function,” Nedergaard said. “It becomes almost like a kidney, removing waste from the system.”

Studies conducted on mice by Nedergaard and her team have revealed that the drainage system removes some of the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. During sleep, this removal process was sped up by two times.

Some people can have difficulty sleeping, facing issues like insomnia and sleep apnea. Making a few lifestyle changes might help with getting good quality sleep. This includes meditating, eating two or three hours prior to sleeping, maintaining a cool and dark room, and so on.

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