Sleep and Longevity: Can Sleep Help You Live Longer?

We all know that getting enough sleep is important for our health, but did you know that getting too much or too little sleep might actually shorten your lifespan?

By Nicole Gleichmann

Feb 2nd, 2021

Fatigue, brain fog, and cognitive difficulties…we’re all intimately familiar with the immediate consequences of spending too few hours in bed at night. But did you know that too little sleep is tied to a shorter life? Or, perhaps more surprisingly, that too much sleep is linked to an even higher mortality rate?

Researchers have been examining the connection between sleep and longevity for many years, typically finding a U-shaped relationship between how much we sleep and how long we live. Sleeping fewer than 6 hours each night or greater than 8 is associated with decreased longevity.

How Are Sleep and Longevity Connected?

Why would someone with a short sleep schedule on weekdays be better off than someone with a short sleep schedule every day of the week? The answer probably lies in one of two scenarios.

In the first, the person who doesn’t sleep much any day of the week could suffer from a condition that makes it hard to sleep and also decreases longevity, and therefore the healthier person is capable of sleeping in during the weekends while the less healthy person is not.

In the second, clocking fewer hours of sleep itself might lead to an increased risk of death. If this is the case, sleeping in during the weekend could make up for this sleep debt, boosting health and longevity. As it stands now, these scenarios are both speculative and more research needs to be done to determine the cause of this correlation.

What About Chronically Long Sleepers?

Longer sleep each night is correlated with a high risk of death compared to both normal sleepers and short sleepers. In a study looking at sleep duration and longevity, researchers followed more than 21,000 twins over a period of 22 years. What they found is that those who slept fewer than seven hours each night had an increased mortality risk of 17%, while those who slept greater than eight hours had an increased mortality risk of 24%, demonstrating a correlation between excess sleep and mortality risk.

Sleeping in On the Weekend Might Extend Your Life

If you’re one of those who sleeps in on the weekends to “make up” for the sleep that you lost during the week, you might just be in luck. A recent study suggests that weekend sleep may make up for shorter sleep patterns during the work week when it comes to how long you live.

In the 2018 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, 43,880 participants were followed for a period of 13 years. During this time, weekday and weekend sleep were reported as well as overall mortality.

In people under 65 years old, sleeping less than five hours during weekdays and weekend days was tied to a 52% higher mortality rate than sleeping seven hours. Yet, if someone slept less than five hours during the weekdays but nine hours or more each weekend night, this higher mortality rate vanished.

This study found that both long sleep every day of the week and short sleep every day of the week is associated with higher mortality rates, but if you are a short sleeper during the week and long sleeper on the weekend, your mortality rate is the same as someone who sleeps seven hours nightly. For those 65 years and older, there was no association between hours slept and mortality rate.

The conclusion? Sleeping in on the weekend might be the best thing you can do for your longevity if you don’t sleep enough during the week.

Can Sleep Help You Live Longer?

If you aren’t getting enough sleep each night and there is something you can do to get more, you may want to start making sleep a priority. Sleeping too little too often increases your risk of many health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and depression, that can impact your health and longevity. Getting the right amount of sleep can offer some protection against these and other conditions, and therefore, help you live longer.

The Ideal Amount of Nightly Sleep Is…

Seven hours of sleep may be the ideal amount of sleep to aim for each night, with this quantity appearing time-and-again in the research. Sleep researchers have found that seven hours a night is the average amount of sleep that people get around the world, and that it’s tied to the highest longevity.

Yet, researchers do point out that the ideal amount of sleep is likely to differ from one person to the next. So, if you find that you naturally sleep 6 hours or 8 hours each night and you wake up feeling refreshed, that might be the optimal amount of sleep for you.