Sleep quality more important than duration to stay healthy, research suggests

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One study suggests that experiencing good quality sleep is more important than the recommended seven to nine hours to ward off diseases.

New research has found that people who do not sleep well or get enough sleep are nearly three times more likely to fall ill with colds, flu and other respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19.

But it also showed that good quality sleep can effectively make up for sleeping less than the recommended amount, when it comes to strengthening the immune system to help fight off viral infections.

Professor Neil Walsh from Liverpool John Moores University said his team’s findings – published in the journal Sleep – “change the way we think about sleep and health”.

Getting good sleep may trump longer sleep in terms of our immunity to disease

Professor Neil Walshow

The lead researcher told the PA news agency: “Sleep is important for mental and physical health, including our ability to fight off infection.

“The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

“Yet many of us restrict our sleep for the sake of our busy lives—for example, we regularly restrict our sleep when we get up early for our workday commitments.

“But when you restrict your sleep, you’re not necessarily more likely to get sick — it really depends on your quality of life.”

In the first study of its kind, scientists followed 1,318 new recruits into the military for 12 weeks.

This is an extremely useful message in our busy world where sleep is often sacrificed for other tasks.

Professor Neil Walshow

Their work included tracking participants’ sleep patterns and health in the weeks before training and after joining the military, where they had to follow a strict wake-up routine.

On average, participants were found to sleep two hours less during military training than in civilian life.

However, the researchers noted that more than half of those with sleep restriction rated their sleep as being of good quality.

According to the team, recruits who reported sleep restrictions during training were nearly three times as likely to suffer from respiratory infections.

This was after taking into account the factors that influence these types of diseases, such as the time of year and smoking.

However, the researchers found that sleep deprivation exacerbated infections only in those reporting poor sleep quality, while good sleep quality protected against respiratory illnesses despite shorter duration.

Prof Walsh told the PA: “There are two very important messages here: first that restricted sleep patterns can result in more frequent illness, and second, more surprisingly, that good sleep matters our immunity to disease. I can take a long sleep.

“This is an extremely useful message in our busy world where sleep is often sacrificed for other purposes.”

Based on the findings, Prof Walsh said there are five things people can do to improve sleep quality. This includes:

– Adopting a consistent bedtime schedule (same bed and wake time), including weekends

Avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime

– Ensuring that the bed and pillows are comfortable and the room is cool, dark and quiet

– Establishing a comfortable bedtime routine – going screen-free 30 minutes before bedtime and going to bed at bedtime

Exercising during the day helps in falling asleep.

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