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OCTOBER 30, 2002
Too much sleep can kill you or so Boston University School of Medicine says.
In the past several months three longitudinal studies have found a link between getting nine hours or more of sleep and death.
None of these studies began with the intent of studying sleep and mortality rates, yet the data seemed to emerge on its own.
In July, Dr. Daniel Gottlieb, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University, released findings he found in the Framingham Heart Study which alarmingly suggest too much sleep is more detrimental to health than too little sleep.
In the study of 4,541 men and women, people who slept nine hours or more were 70 percent more likely to die during a 14-year period than those who slept seven to eight hours. Those who slept six hours or less were only 50 percent more likely to die.
These findings confirm results presented earlier in the year that suggested people who slept less than eight hours may live longer. But they also reject the earlier studys claim that five to seven hours is optimal.
It is clear from the Framingham study that seven to eight is indeed the magic number.
So we should be sleeping with an oven timer, not an alarm clock.
This data is startling, especially if you consider that cigarette smoking is associated with only a 50 percent mortality risk. Youre more likely to die if you sleep nine hours or more than if you smoke.
But Gottlieb said its too early to jump to conclusions since the study shows an association and not cause and effect.
It needs more study, he said. Adding, We recommend a lot of lifestyle changes and medications for risks smaller than this.
So what he really means is dont sleep more than eight hours and see a doctor if you sleep more than that, youll live longer.
In another study, still ongoing, researchers found a similar link between the development of heart disease and sleep in 71,167 women.
After adjusting for confounding factors like exercise, smoking, snoring and body mass index, women who slept more than nine hours were 37 percent more likely to have a heart attack during 10 years of follow up. Those who slept five or less hours were 39 percent more likely. Women who slept six hours had an 18 percent increased risk.
Because this study factored out people who had other risk factors for higher mortality, this study seems to suggest that sleep alone caused the 37 percent increased risk, yet there could be an underlying health condition making the women sleepy and ultimately killing them.
Scientists warn there are problems with the data. All relied on self reports of sleep time so people may be lying in bed, reporting they are sleeping, when they are not.
There is one thing every study agrees with: more research is needed.
But it will take time.
The best data is gleaned from a longitudinal study which follows a large group of men and women over a long period of time. I would think it would be at least a decade before any firm results are in. In the meantime, Im sure doctors will try to explain the link by studying the physiological effects of too much sleep. They know getting too little sleep causes chemical problems in the body like insulin resistance and increased stress hormone levels. In fact, too little sleep even impairs the immune system. But theres no good explanation for a cause and effect relationship between too much sleep.
What is clear is a very definite link between sleep and mortality.
At this point, scientists speculate that sleeping nine or more hours is a symptom of a greater health problem like sleep apnea which interrupts sleep or a more serious underlying condition.
Definitely worth a trip to the doctor.
Rochelle Beckstine is a columnist for MainStreet Newspapers.
By: Virgil Adams
The Jackson Herald
October 30, 2002
One scary Halloween column
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