Doing This at Night Spikes Your Risk of Chronic Disease by 30 Percent, New Study Says

This habit affects your health more than you might think.

As we get older, we become more and more aware of how our lifestyle impacts our health. Maybe when you were in your twenties, leftover pizza for breakfast and cheese fries for dinner seemed like perfectly reasonable choices—but now, you know that eating a healthy diet can potentially add years to your life. And while couch surfing may have been your favorite kind of "exercise" back in the day, we now know that even getting as little as ten minutes of physical exercise a day is beneficial to many aspects of our wellness, including brain health.

Read on to find out about another daily—or rather, nightly—habit that affects your wellness, and why doing it on a regular basis can lead to a host of health problems.

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Our overall health picture changes in our 50s.

Woman speaking with her doctor.

Turning 50 is a milestone, and while age may just be a number, this one brings some potential changes in your health. Some of those are positive, according to WebMD. "You'll go into your 50s with more brain function than you had when you were 25," says the site. And when it comes to mental health, "nearly 95 percent of people who are 50 or older say they're 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with their lives," their experts report.

In other ways, however, your health may be more vulnerable. Your immune system, one you hit age 50, "can be slower to go after viruses and other outside threats," warns WebMD. "And your body no longer makes as many 'fighter' cells to destroy infections as it used to [so] you're more likely to get sick with the flu, pneumonia, or tetanus." Your cardiovascular health is at greater risk, as well. "Once you hit your 50s, your chances of a heart attack go up," the site says.

Different risk factors impact your chances of developing chronic disease.

Woman sitting by window, looking outside.

Different factors can contribute to an increased risk of chronic disease after age 50. The ​​National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) reports that the main lifestyle choices that put people at risk for chronic disease such as kidney disease, stroke, and cancer are tobacco use, poor nutrition, inadequate physical activity, and excessive alcohol intake.

Other contributing risk factors are less well-known. For example, one study showed that overuse of antibiotics can potentially increase your risk of cognitive decline—and a new study says your sleep habits can play an important role in your risk of chronic disease.

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Your sleep habits have a big impact your health.

Couple sleeping in bed.

Whether you've always been a night owl who got by on very little sleep, or your nightly routine has shifted over the years, many people in their 50s and older don't get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

"Our sleep patterns often change, and we may find it more difficult to get a full night's rest," says Sony Sherpa, MD, focuses on holistic health in her medical practice. "This can be due to several factors, including medical conditions, medications, stress, and changes in our circadian rhythms."

Adequate sleep is vital for our health, and not getting enough can have serious repercussions. "This is because not letting our bodies recover, and pushing them beyond their limits, can make us more susceptible to chronic diseases and illnesses," says Sherpa. "Think about it like this: if you don't give your body the chance to properly recover at night, it will have to work twice as hard during the day just to keep up."

Not getting enough sleep at night can increase your risk of chronic disease.

Woman holding a mug and looking out the window.

A study published in PLOS One this month says that for people over 50, getting five or fewer hours of sleep a night can cause serious health problems, including an increased risk of chronic disease. "For those whose sleep was tracked at age 50, people who slept five hours or less a night faced a 30 percent higher risk that they would develop multiple chronic diseases over time than those who slept at least seven hours a night," CNN reported. "At 60, it was a 32 percent increased risk, and at 70, it was a 40 percent greater risk."

In addition to the health risks inherent in inadequate sleep, being fatigued makes it harder "to live a healthy lifestyle and make positive choices for our health," advises Sherpa. "For instance, exercising may seem much harder when you're tired, so you're less likely to do it, [and] eating a nutritious diet can also be difficult when you have no energy, as unhealthy foods are usually easier and quicker to consume."

"For all these reasons, it's important to try and get a good night's sleep, even as we age," says Sherpa, who notes that helpful lifestyle choices include reducing your caffeine intake, practicing a consistent bedtime routine, and trying out relaxation techniques.

"Never take sleep for granted," Sherpa says. "It's crucial for our overall health and well-being."

Luisa Colón
Luisa Colón is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Latina, and many more. Read more
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