Eileen B. Leary, Ph.D.
Eileen B. Leary, Ph.D.

Facilitating better sleep in older adults may help to reduce mortality risk, a new study suggests.

Investigators linked increased rapid-eye-movement sleep — known to be necessary for good health — to higher risk of death from all-causes, including cardiovascular and other noncancer-related disease.

In more than 2,600 older men, there was a 13% higher mortality rate over 12 years for every 5% reduction in REM sleep, reported Eileen Leary, Ph.D., from Stanford University. Leary and colleagues found similar results in a cohort of 1,375 middle-aged men and women who were followed for about 21 years.

There also appeared to be a threshold for poor outcomes. Study participants with less than 15% REM sleep had a higher mortality rate than individuals with 15% or more REM sleep for each of the disease outcomes studied. This was particularly true for cancer.

“Strategies to preserve REM sleep may influence clinical therapies and reduce mortality risk, particularly for adults with less than 15% REM,” the authors concluded.

The study used data from the Outcomes of Sleep Disorders in Older Men Sleep Study and Wisconsin Sleep Cohort. Full findings were published in JAMA Neurology.