The Connection Between Sleep and Longevity

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
October 21, 2022
Elderly woman sleeping

Sleep deprivation is a widespread problem that many Americans face. Disordered sleep, whether it be driven by:

  • A health issue
  • Work conditions
  • Lifestyle

Poor sleep leads to fatigue and raises your risk for injuries. Sleep deprivation is also linked with many chronic illnesses including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Depression

The Importance of NREM

The sleep cycle comprises four stages of sleep – arguably five if you count falling asleep. The first three stages progressively deepen in non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). In other words, in stage 1 you’re nodding off, while in stage 3, you’re sound asleep.

During NREM, your body temperature lowers and physiological processes such as eye movement, breathing, muscle activity, heartbeat and brain waves slow down. Slow wave sleep is very restorative for your body, allowing it to recuperate from the day and consolidate memories. This why good quality NREM sleep is so important. 

A very small study found a tie between slow wave sleep and longevity. Researchers from Universidade Federal de São Paulo evaluated and compared sleep patterns and biochemical profiles of the oldest adults (ages 85 to 105 years), older adults (ages 60 to 70 years) and young adults (ages 20 to 30 years). All study participants underwent full night sleep study, one week of rest and sleep cycle monitoring, blood collection and measurement of electrical activity in the brain with quantification of rhythms and frequencies of activity. Researchers found longevity among the oldest participants when they maintained: 

  • Slow wave sleep, when compared to older adults
  • Strict, regular sleep patterns 
  • Healthy blood fat profile (i.e., cholesterol, triglycerides)   

“NREM sleep seems to get less attention that REM in terms of healthspan and lifespan,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “However, this study shows NREM can affect your longevity.”

The Importance of REM

After about 90 minutes of NREM sleep, you’ll enter the fourth stage known as rapid eye movement (REM). During this phase, your brain processes emotions, new information and motor skills you learned during the day and decides which information to remember and which to discard. Towards the end of the REM stage, your heart rate, breathing and eye movement hastens; brain becomes more active, and you can dream intensely. 

REM has been linked to brain health for years. Getting less than recommended REM sleep raises your risk for dementia, according to a study published in online Neurology. But it’s also necessary for your overall health; for every five percent reduction in REM sleep, mortality rates rise between 13 and 17 percent among older and middle-aged adults, according to a study published in JAMA Neurology.  

“A growing body of evidence suggests good quality sleep is a key component of good health, says Kaminetsky. “Of course, getting good sleep is often easier said than done. Health conditions, financial and relationship concerns, lifestyle, environmental conditions and physiological changes of aging all contribute to disordered sleep.”

This is why it’s so important to discuss sleep issues with your primary care doctor. They can:

Looking for a primary care physician? Consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. An MDVIP-affiliated doctor can customize a wellness plan for you that can focus on a sleep-friendly lifestyle. Find an MDVIP affiliate near you and begin your partnership in health »

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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