Study: Sleep, social ties cut risk of age-related diseases

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Elderly women who get a good night's sleep or have remained relatively social – or both – have lower levels of a protein linked to numerous age-related diseases, including Alzheimer's and cancer, according to new research.

Interleukin-6 is an immune system protein that promotes inflammation and tends to increase with age. People who have relatively high levels of the protein are at greater risk a variety of diseases, including osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and cancer.

"You don't need to have both [good quality sleep and social engagement] in order to have low levels of IL-6 -- having high levels of one is enough," according to Dr. Elliot M. Friedman, lead researcher from University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Friedman and colleagues examined the interplay between social engagement, sleep quality, and blood levels of IL-6 in women between the ages of 61 and 90.

The report on the research is in the online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.