Worrying about insomnia is keeping me up at night.
Feel free to worry along: A brand-new study found that getting too little sleep more than doubles the risk of death. Unfortunately, so does getting too much.
It’s enough to drive you to drink – but what? A double espresso or a Lunesta on the rocks?
“If you reduce the amount of sleep you normally have to five hours or less, you are twice as likely to die of cardiovascular disease,” the author of the 17- year study, Dr. Francesco Cappuccio, said. “Cardiovascular disease is the commonest killer in Western civilization.”
“On the other hand,” the University of Warwick epidemiologist continued, “if you increase your amount of sleep to nine hours or more, you are twice as likely to die of noncardiovascular disease.” Cancer, for instance. Or maybe terminal restfulness.
The working theory is that people who get too little sleep are at greater risk for obesity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes – all bad things that sometimes can lead to lights out. As for why too much sleep leads to that same dark night, it simply may be that people who are already sick start sleeping longer. Or not. No one knows.
In any event, Dr. Cappuccio (who is well aware of what spellchecker does to his name) isn’t taking any chances. He aims for six hours a night – right around the sweet spot of six and a half hours.
That, at least, is the ideal amount as determined by another recent study, this one of 1.1 million people, conducted at the University of California, Davis. “Increased Death Rate Associated With Sleeping 8 Hours or More,” the abstract announced.
Ah, yes, those lethal eight hours of shut-eye.
If that sounds nutty – and an affront to nagging mothers everywhere – just figure that sleep is the new exercise: a once-normal part of life that has now become something to brag about, obsess about, talk to your doctor about and, most of all, feel guilty about. Men’s Sleep monthly cannot be far behind (ditto, “Every Night With Rachael Ray”).
Or come to think of it, maybe sleep is more like food: Once upon a time, food was something you just ate. Now you have to worry about every bite you put into your mouth and assume that if it’s really good and comforting and something you loved as a child, it probably is going to kill you. Just like a good night’s sleep.
“Sleep is the one thing that we invest more time in on a daily basis that affects our health more than anything else,” said Chicago internist David Donnersberger, his tone cautionary. “You might be on a treadmill for an hour, but you’re sleeping for eight.” Do it right or else.
His advice is to practice “sleep hygiene,” the new catchphrase for proper go-tosleep protocol: Climb into bed and do only bed-specific things there. You know what they are. They do not include a laptop or a bag of potato chips (usually).
Once relaxed and drowsy, proceed to do what comes naturally – or used to a long time ago, before people started studying sleep and telling you you might die if you do it wrong.
But not more than six and a half hours’ worth.
Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at The New York Sun and Advertising Age.
©2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.