Getting good sleep may have long-term benefits — even extending your life span, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that young people with better sleep habits were incrementally less likely to die early. About 8% of deaths from any cause could be attributed to poor sleep patterns.

Study co-author Dr. Frank Qian, a resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School, said his team found a “clear dose-response relationship.” Simply put: The better the sleep, the greater the protection from early death from all causes, including heart disease.

“These findings emphasize that just getting enough hours of sleep isn’t sufficient,” Qian said in an American College of Cardiology news release. “You really have to have restful sleep and not have much trouble falling and staying asleep.”

Researchers identified several sleep habits that made a difference: sleeping seven to eight hours a night; having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep no more than twice a week; not using any sleep medication, and feeling well rested on awaking at least five days a week.

“If people have all these ideal sleep behaviors, they are more likely to live longer,” Qian said. “So, if we can improve sleep overall, and identifying sleep disorders is especially important, we may be able to prevent some of this premature [deaths].”

For the study, researchers used data from more than 172,000 people (average age: 50), who were part of a nationwide health survey between 2013 and 2018. About two-thirds were white, almost 15% were Hispanic, about 13% Black, and nearly 6% Asian.

Researchers linked participants to national death records through December 2019, following each person for roughly 4.3 years.

More than 8,600 of survey respondents died — 30% from heart disease; 24% from cancer, and 46% from other causes.

The study controlled for risk factors for premature death, including lower income, smoking, alcohol use and other medical conditions.

When compared to those with zero to one beneficial sleep factors, participants with all five beneficial sleep factors were 30% less likely to die of any cause; 21% less likely to die from heart disease; 19% less likely to die from cancer; and 40% less likely to die of other causes, researchers found.

Other deaths are likely due to accidents, infections or neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease, Qian said.

Life expectancy was 4.7 years greater for men and 2.4 years greater for women who had all five quality sleep measures compared to those who had none or just one.

It’s not clear why men had greater gains in life expectancy than women.

Researchers hope patients and clinicians will start talking about sleep as part of their overall health assessment.

They noted that sleep habits were self-reported and not studied in a controlled setting, which could affect accuracy of the results. No information about participants’ use of sleep aids or medicine was available.

The findings are scheduled for presentation March 6 at a joint meeting of the American College of Cardiology and World Congress of Cardiology, in New Orleans and online. Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on healthy sleep.

SOURCE: American College of Cardiology, news release, Feb. 23, 2023