WEDNESDAY, Sept. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Shortchanging yourself on
sleep could shave years off your life if you're a man.
So claims a new study that found men who reported having
insomnia or who slept for short periods of time were much more
likely to die over a 14-year period.
"Insomnia has potentially very severe side effects," said study co-author and sleep researcher Edward Bixler. "It needs to be treated, and more effort needs to be put into sorting out better treatments."
Female insomniacs could be suffering the same fate, but the
researchers only followed them for 10 years and researchers didn't
notice any significant difference in mortality rates.
Previous research has looked at sleep's effects on life span,
but the new study is unique because it takes into account both
people's perceptions about how much sleep they're getting (which
can be wrong) and the actual amount of sleep they got in a
Bixler and his colleagues recruited more than 1,700 people from
central Pennsylvania and followed the men (average age 50) for 14
years and the women (average age 47) for a decade. The participants
answered questions and spent a night in a sleep laboratory.
The researchers report their findings in the Sept. 1 issue of
About a fifth of the men died during the study period, while 5
percent of the women did. The difference may be because women live
longer than men and the study followed women for a shorter period,
said Bixler, a professor of psychiatry at the Pennsylvania State
University College of Medicine.
Even after adjusting their statistics so they wouldn't be thrown
off by factors such as the prevalence of sleep apnea, the
researchers found that self-described male insomniacs who slept
fewer than six hours in the sleep lab were several times more
likely to die during the 14-year period compared to "good
Among men, about 9 percent of "good sleepers" died during the
study period, compared to more than half -- 51 percent -- of
insomniacs with short sleep duration.
Of all the people in the study, 8 percent of women and 4 percent
of men both reported insomnia and had trouble getting much sleep in
Why might sleep problems shorten lives? Some evidence suggests
they may contribute to clogged arteries or disrupt the immune
system, said Dr. B. Tucker Woodson, chief of the division of sleep
medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
The study doesn't definitively prove that poor sleep will
directly cause a man to die earlier; there could be other factors
As for women, they aren't in the clear, Bixler said. Since they
live longer, it may take a study of a longer duration to figure out
whether they suffer from a similar effect, he noted.
And there's another complicating factor, said J. Todd Arnedt,
director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University
of Michigan. While he said the study was "well-conducted," the men
appear to have been sicker than the women, potentially throwing off
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has details on