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A recent study that featured in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that one factor, SLEEP – may play a significant role for people with various health conditions, especially diabetes or hypertension, the two very common health conditions around the world. 

Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, Ph.D., lead author from the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine in Hershey and team analyzed the data of 1,654 participants — 52.5% of whom were women — between the ages of 20 and 74 years. All of the participants had enrolled in the Penn State Adult Cohort.

Participants were split into groups: one group had stage 2 high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes and the other group had a history of heart disease or stroke and the adults were studied in the sleep laboratory in the 1990s and their causes of death were tracked up to the end of 2016.

What caught the researchers’ attention was the fact that among individuals who had hypertension or type 2 diabetes, the risk of death due to heart disease or stroke was two times higher in those who slept for less than 6 hours per night than in those who slept for 6 hours or more.

“Our study suggests that achieving normal sleep may be protective for some people with these health conditions and risks,” said Fernandez-Mendoza.

 “However,” he cautions, “further research is needed to examine whether improving and increasing sleep through medical or behavioral therapies can reduce risk of early death.”

For the individuals with one of these two health conditions who slept for longer, the increased risk of premature death was not significant.

Additionally, participants in the heart disease and stroke group who slept for less than 6 hours a night had almost three times the risk of dying from cancer-related causes.

“Short sleep duration should be included as a useful risk factor to predict the long term outcomes of people with these health conditions and as a target of primary and specialized clinical practices,” he said. 

“I’d like to see policy changes so that sleep consultations and sleep studies become a more integral part of our healthcare systems,” he added.

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“Better identification of people with specific sleep issues would potentially lead to improved prevention, more complete treatment approaches, better long term outcomes, and less healthcare usage,” suggests Fernandez-Mendoza.

While this research adds to the evidence that sleep plays a crucial role in the maintenance of health and well-being, the study authors do admit that their current analysis has some limitations in the fact that they only had access to data on the duration of a single night’s sleep.

“Nevertheless, the associations found for those other clustered non‐[cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease] causes of death had the expected [hazard ratios] and provided confidence about the reliability and validity of our findings,” the authors argue in their study paper.

Insufficient sleep has been shown to raise the risk of several health issues including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The National Sleep Foundation also recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. However, a 2015 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 50 percent of US adults sleep fewer than the recommended hours.

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