Adequate sleep, which experts define as sleeping at least seven hours on most nights, is known to be a vitally important part of healthy aging. A recent study published by scientists at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital shows just how important the connection between sleep and overall health is for older adults.
The researchers gathered data on the overall health of more than 2,600 people participating in the National Health and Aging Trends Study, a long-term look at Medicare beneficiaries over age 65. The participants also answered survey questions about their sleep – including how long it took them to fall asleep on average, sleep quality, sleep duration, daytime alertness, nap frequency and more.
The data showed that the risk of dementia, as well as death from any cause, was double among participants who reported that they usually get less than five hours of sleep per night, compared to those who said they typically get seven or eight hours of sleep. The team also found associations between sleep disturbance or deficiency and a higher overall risk of death.
Routinely taking 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep was associated with a 45% greater risk for dementia. Frequently experiencing problems with staying alert during the day, regular napping, poor sleep quality, and sleeping five or fewer hours per night were variables also found to be associated with increased mortality during the five years following the survey.
“Our findings illuminate a connection between sleep deficiency and risk of dementia and confirm the importance of efforts to help older individuals obtain sufficient sleep each night,” said lead author Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders.