Is Lack of Sleep Making You Sick?

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Are you one of the nearly half of all Australian adults who report having at least two sleep-related problems? While sleep apnoea is the headliner for men, for women it’s insomnia.

It’s commonly accepted by medical practitioners that poor quality and quantity of sleep has health implications for us beyond just fatigue.

The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW) says, while getting enough sleep is linked with improved life satisfaction, too little sleep is associated with an increased risk of developing a chronic disease like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

But now a study lead by University College London (UCL) has shown that, if you are mid to late in life and getting less than five hours of sleep, you could be at increased risk of multiple chronic diseases, leading to an earlier death.

While the association of lack of sleep with chronic disease is highly-researched, this study set out to better understand its association with multimorbidity, or multiple chronic diseases, common in older adults.

Using data from the ongoing Whitehall 2 Study, this research looked at the amount of sleep self-reported by more than 7,000 mature aged UK men and women across a 25-year period, comparing their health outcomes at 50, 60 and 70 years of age.

When compared to those who reported sleeping up to seven hours per night, those getting less than five hours sleep per night at age 50, had a 25% increased risk of mortality over the course of the study period.

This outcome was attributed to the increased risk of multiple chronic diseases for those regularly under-sleeping, rather than the under-sleeping itself. That cohort, 6.9% of the participants and free from chronic disease at age 50, had a 20% greater chance of having a chronic disease and were 40% more likely to have been diagnosed with two or more chronic diseases, compared to their better slept peers.

This result was similarly reflected in a 2018 Australian study that showed adults with sleep apnoea were 8.8 times more likely to have two or more chronic health conditions as those without apnoea.

So, while you might be sick of not sleeping, lack of sleep could in fact, be making you sick to death!

Along with the risk of higher mortality, living with multimorbidity leads to increased healthcare costs, hospitalisations and disability, all of which impact on quality of life.

According to lead author of the UCL study, Dr Severine Sabia, multimorbidity is on the rise in high income countries, with more than half of older adults living with at least two chronic diseases.

You can improve your health outcomes by ensuring you get enough sleep.

How can we get more sleep?

With so much to risk, it doesn’t make sense to let sleeping issues go on untreated.

No matter at what age, there are things you can do to improve quality of sleep, starting with a dark room, comfortable temperature and regular bed times. Remove electronic devices. Avoid caffeine and eating before bedtime. Exercise, exposure to sunlight during the day and deep breathing can also help promote better sleep.

There is no one magic cure for short-sleeping, which can be caused by a multitude of factors, including environmental and background influences. Targeted individual treatment to overcome sleep deficit is available.

After a thorough consultation with your GP based on your individual circumstances, a Compounding Pharmacist can create custom medication or supplement treatments for an improved sleep regime.

Medicines, including naturally derived treatments, customised to your individual needs, and fulfilled by a reputable compound pharmacy like National Custom Compounding, can maximise the effectiveness of treatments, minimise the likelihood of side effects, and reduce dosage frequencies.

To Sum it Up

This new research from UCL demonstrates a link between adults over the age of 50 getting less than five hours sleep and a greater risk of multiple chronic disease, and adds to the mounting evidence highlighting just how vital it is to our health to get a good night’s sleep.

According to AIHW, for most Australian adults, 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep is recommended.

If you are struggling to sleep, help is available. Talk to your health practitioner as soon as possible to avoid long-term negative health outcomes from not getting enough sleep.