“Numerous studies have linked insufficient sleep with significant health consequences. Yet, many people ignore the signs of sleep problems or don’t allow enough time to get adequate sleep,” said lead researcher Eileen Leary. She is a senior manager of clinical research at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
“REM sleep appears to be a reliable predictor of mortality and may have other predictive health values,” Leary said. “Strategies to preserve REM may influence clinical therapies and reduce mortality risk, particularly for adults with less than 15% of REM sleep.”
REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is when dreams occur and the body repairs itself from the ravages of the day. For every 5% reduction in REM sleep, mortality rates increase 13% to 17% among older and middle-aged adults, researchers report.
For the study, Leary and her colleagues included more than 2,600 men, average age 76, who were followed for a median of 12 years. They also collected data on nearly 1,400 men and women, average age 52, who were part of another study and were followed for a median of 21 years.
Poor REM sleep was tied to early death from any cause as well as death from cardiovascular and other diseases, the researchers found.
“The sleep environment is something that can easily be fixed,” Salas says. By giving a little thought to positioning your body and bed, you might find your slumber is even sweeter.
For young, healthy people, sleep position is less important, Salas says. “But as you get older and have more medical issues, sleep position can become positive or negative.”
Consider these factors before you switch off the light:
Back and neck pain: When it comes to alleviating pain, sleeping on your back is a mixed bag, Salas says. For people with neck pain, sleeping face up can sometimes make the pain worse. But many people find back sleep is helpful for alleviating low-back pain. If you have soreness in your spine, experiment with different positions and pillows to find what works for you.
Snoring and sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea causes the airways to collapse during sleep, leading to pauses in breathing. It often goes hand-in-hand with snoring. Positioning yourself on your side or stomach can help the airways stay open to reduce snoring and alleviate mild apnea, Salas says.
Reflux and heartburn: If you suffer from heartburn, sleeping on your right side can make symptoms worse, Salas says. That’s true for people who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and for people who have heartburn for other reasons, such as pregnant women. Flip to your left side to cool the burn.
Appearance: If you sleep on your side or stomach, you’ve probably noticed creases on your face when you wake up. “Over time, that can lead to breakouts or cause chronic changes to the skin,” Salas says. “If you’re concerned about wrinkles, it’s another reason to sleep on your back.”
His mission was to educate the world about the importance of sleep, which he believed was dangerously undervalued. His motto, “drowsiness is red alert,” is a message he tirelessly broadcast to his students, trainees, members of Congress and the world at large.
William Dement, MD, PhD, known as the father of sleep medicine, died June 17 after a two-year battle with cardiovascular disease. He was 91.
With a handful of other scientists, Dement, a longtime faculty member of the Stanford School of Medicine, created the fields of sleep research and sleep medicine, and his many books and lectures helped raise awareness of sleep disorders and the dangers of sleep deprivation.
Dement’s many other accomplishments and accolades range far and wide: Dement and Guilleminault were the founding editors of the journal Sleep, the first major international journal devoted to sleep, publishing the first issue in 1978. He was the author of books for lay readers, including The Promise of Sleep, Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep and The Sleepwatchers.The 2012 comedy film Sleepwalk with Me featured The Promise of Sleep and Dement in a cameo.
“We’ve discovered that fragmented sleep is associated with a unique pathway — chronic circulating inflammation throughout the blood stream — which, in turn, is linked to higher amounts of plaques in coronary arteries,” said study senior author Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience.
Disrupted nightly sleep and clogged arteries tend to sneak up on us as we age. And while both disorders may seem unrelated, a new UC Berkeley study helps explain why they are, in fact, pathologically intertwined.
Some tips to improve sleep quality
Maintain a regular sleep routine, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
As part of a nightly wind-down routine, avoid viewing computer, smartphone and TV screens in the last hour before bedtime, and keep phones and other digital devices out of the bedroom.
Engage in some form of physical exercise during the day.
Get exposure to natural daylight, especially in the first half of the day.
Avoid stimulants, like caffeine, and sedatives, like alcohol, later in the day.
UC Berkeley sleep scientists have begun to reveal what it is about fragmented nightly sleep that leads to the fatty arterial plaque buildup known as atherosclerosis that can result in fatal heart disease.
“We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation. We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death,” said senior study author Dragana Rogulja, assistant professor of neurobiology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS.
The first signs of insufficient sleep are universally familiar. There’s tiredness and fatigue, difficulty concentrating, perhaps irritability or even tired giggles. Far fewer people have experienced the effects of prolonged sleep deprivation, including disorientation, paranoia, and hallucinations.
Total, prolonged sleep deprivation, however, can be fatal. While it has been reported in humans only anecdotally, a widely cited study in rats conducted by Chicago-based researchers in 1989 showed that a total lack of sleep inevitably leads to death. Yet, despite decades of study, a central question has remained unsolved: Why do animals die when they don’t sleep?
Now, Harvard Medical School (HMS) neuroscientists have identified an unexpected, causal link between sleep deprivation and premature death.
From a The Architectural Review online article (April 9, 2020):
The sleep industry caters to a working consumer’s wish to sleep less, yet sleep more productively, and accommodates transnational industry which has joined the state as a custodian of biopolitics. Jonathan Crary’s 24/7 spells out in detail how the state and a capitalist economy are encroaching stupendously on the private sphere, in which sleep was one of the last vestiges of unfettered time.
About 15 years ago, someone calculated the financial loss US companies incurred through workers’ illicit practice of sleeping on the job. Indeed, the trope of the lazy sleeper is an old one, resignified at present in our more than callous attitude towards the homeless, whose sleeping bodies punctuate many a journey to and from work.
Even in this most passive stance – someone simply disregarding normative codes and regulations by giving in to a physical need – sleep seems suspiciously subversive. Less an act than a way of being, the sleeper, by sleeping when and where it is not condoned, challenges everyone else, who is doing/working/functioning/functionalised. Contrary to the tree falling in the forest, the sleeper in the workplace or in public space affects and thus ever so slightly transforms those around them.
Just 16 percent say they don’t feel sleepy at all in a typical week (this excludes sleepiness at bedtime and when waking up). About half, by contrast, feel sleepy anywhere from three to seven days a week. That includes a big gender gap: Women report feeling sleepy 3.4 days a week, on average; men, 2.7 days.
Among the approximately three in 10 Americans who have feelings of sleepiness on five to seven days a week, 52 percent report often or sometimes experiencing irritability when sleepy; 40 percent, headaches; and 34 percent, feeling unwell apart from headaches. Each is far higher than among those with fewer experiences of sleepiness.
On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Jessica Lancaster, a Mayo Clinic immunologist, discusses aging and the immune system. Some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 because of their age or underlying health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Adults 60 and older and those with an underlying health condition or a compromised immune system appear to develop serious illness more often than others. This interview was recorded March 19, 2020.