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What’s the Impact of Sleep on Health?

A contented-looking woman sleeping in bed.

In honor of National Sleep Awareness Week (March 10-16, 2024), researchers across Mass General Brigham are sharing what they’d like people to know about the impact of sleep on our health.

“It is commonly known that getting more sleep is better for our general health and longevity. In recent work, we demonstrated that the regularity of one's sleep timing is as important as the duration of one's sleep in relation to our overall longevity. Having a regular sleep and wake time was associated with lower all-cause mortality, as well as cancer and cardiometabolic mortality.”

Angus C. Burns, PhD
Research Fellow
Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

“Chronic insomnia is now a recognized risk factor for the development of major depressive disorder (MDD) in adults, children and adolescents. It can worsen symptom severity and lead to poor treatment outcomes in patients with MDD. Our study has shown that deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS), a non-invasive brain stimulation treatment, can improve both insomnia and depression outcomes in adult patients who failed multiple medication trials for treatment of MDD. I think that brain stimulation therapies hold promise in treating insomnia in complex patients with difficult-to-treat depression, and more research is needed to advance such treatments.”

Amit Chopra, MBBS, DFAPA
Department of Psychiatry, Division of Sleep Medicine
Massachusetts General Hospital

“Sleep is central to human health and wellbeing. However, how long we sleep and how well we sleep is very often affected by diseases. Prioritizing sleep and following healthy sleep practices during illness can expedite recovery and lower pain sensitivity.”

Hassan S. Dashti, PhD, RD
Assistant Professor/Assistant Investigator
Department of Anesthesia Critical Care and Pain Medicine
Massachusetts General Hospital

“Sleep is one of the most important aspects of a child’s life. Sleep disruption is implicated in emotional, cognitive, and physical health problems for children and adolescents. Parents should speak with their child's pediatrician if there are concerns about sleep quality and its effects.”

Kevin Gipson, MD, MS
Pediatric Pulmonologist and Sleep Medicine Physician
Mass General for Children

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can cause vague or atypical symptoms in women such as fatigue, anxiety/depression, or insomnia. These less specific symptoms can lead to a delay in sleep testing since many people may not recognize them as signs of OSA. Furthermore, home sleep apnea testing can be normal and/or underestimate OSA severity since sleep apnea events causing arousals, rather than drops in oxygen, will not be detected. A compressive sleep study in a sleep lab often will reveal more complete information.”

Phillip Huyett, MD
Director of Sleep Surgery
Mass Eye and Ear

Our research shows that you can't sleep ‘too much.’ If you are tired, you should sleep — especially if you didn't have enough sleep on a day when you go to work or school. If you are still tired after being in bed more than 8 hours — or if your bedpartner says you snore loudly, or stop breathing, or kick during sleep — please visit a sleep clinic for an evaluation.”

Elizabeth B. Klerman, MD, PhD
Department of Neurology
Massachusetts General Hospital

“Poor or insufficient sleep can worsen health, especially for patients with sleep disorders. Sleep disorders can result from many factors, including pressure from work or social activities, breathing disturbance (such as sleep apnea), other diseases, and sleeping at a time that conflicts with an individual's biological clock.”

Milena Pavlova, MD
Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders
Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital

“Maintaining sleep duration and consolidation is important for our health. Sleep apnea or menopausal transition can adversely impact physical and mental health, even in the presence of normative sleep durations, which underscores the need for maintaining sleep duration and consolidation for optimal health.”

Shadab Rahman, PhD, MPH
Lead Investigator
Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

“Getting a sufficient amount of sleep, typically seven to eight hours per night, as well as following a regular sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up around the same time most nights) are hallmarks of healthy sleep. Individuals who get sufficient and regular sleep have lower risks of mortality.”

Susan Redline, MD, MPH
Senior Physician
Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

“Good sleep is part of brain care. It reduces our risk of stroke. It can even protect us from losing our memory as we age. The first question I always ask is, ’Do you snore?’ Snoring is common in men and women as we get older and affects our quality of sleep. If you do snore, the first step is to sleep on your side. Often, that will stop the snoring. If the snoring persists, then it is time to consult your doctor.”

Jonathan Rosand, MD, MSc
Co-Founder, McCance Center for Brain Health
Faculty, Center for Genomic Medicine
Vascular Neurologist
Massachusetts General Hospital

“It's not just about getting enough sleep, but also about when you sleep and eat. One of the most important aspects of sleep is its timing, which is governed by our internal circadian system. Disruptions to this system, such as those experienced by night shift workers or through late-night eating, can lead to significant health issues including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression.”

Frank A.J.L. Scheer, PhD
Professor of Medicine
Director of the Medical Chronobiology Program
Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders
Brigham and Women’s Hospital