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Lorraine: Daisy Maskell discusses living with insomnia

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Difficulty sleeping is an issue that is thought to affect around one in three Britons at least once in their lives. This could be caused by a number of factors, from stress and anxiety to an illness. While there are the obvious side effects of little sleep that affect our daily lives, research has suggested it could affect how long we live.

Scientists from the US have identified five key habits that could add years to your life.

Life expectancy was 4.7 years greater for men and 2.4 years greater for women who reported having all five quality sleep measures

This was compared with those who had none or only one of the five favourable elements of low-risk sleep.

The five key habits are:

  • Getting seven or eight hours sleep a night
  • Difficulty falling asleep no more than twice a week
  • Trouble staying asleep no more than twice a week
  • Not using any sleep medication
  • Feeling well rested when waking up at least five days a week.

Study co-author and clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School, Doctor Frank Qian, explained: “If people have all these ideal sleep behaviours, they are more likely to live longer.”

It comes as previous studies have shown that getting too little or too much sleep can negatively affect the heart.

It has also been widely reported that sleep apnoea, a disorder that causes people to pause or stop breathing while asleep, can lead to several heart conditions, including high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and heart attacks.

The new findings showed that young people who have more beneficial sleep habits are incrementally less likely to die young.

Dr Qian said: “It’s important for younger people to understand that a lot of health behaviours are cumulative over time.

“Just like we like to say, how to get off doxycycline ‘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.”

They also suggested that around eight percent of deaths from any cause could be attributed to poor sleep patterns.

“I think these findings emphasise that just getting enough hours of sleep isn’t sufficient,” Dr Qian said.

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“You really have to have restful sleep and not have much trouble falling and staying asleep.”

As part of the study, the researchers analysed data from more than 172,000 American adults, with an average age of 50, who participated in an annual health survey that included questions about sleep and sleep habits.

Participants were followed for an average of 4.3 years during which time 8,681 of them died.

Of the deaths, 30 per cent were from cardiovascular disease, 24 per cent were from cancer and 46 per cent were due to other causes.

Researchers assessed the five different factors of quality sleep using a low-risk sleep score they created based on answers collected as part of the survey.

Dr Qian said: “If we can improve sleep overall, and identifying sleep disorders is especially important, we may be able to prevent some of this premature mortality.”

Compared to people who had zero to one favourable sleep factors, those who had all five were 30 percent less likely to die for any reason.

Dr Qian is due to present the findings at the American College of Cardiology’s annual Scientific Session in New Orleans next month.

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