Did you sleep for less than eight hours last night? Or did you sleep for more than eight hours? There is no “right” answer to this question as either way you are going to die. Because according to new research, carried out at Cambridge University and reported gleefully in all the major news outlets, too much sleep is as detrimental to health as too little.
Cambridge academics observed sleep patterns for nearly 10 years, and found that sleeping for more than eight hours a day doubled the risk of a stroke in older people. Of the 10,000 people observed in the study, 346 suffered a stroke; people who slept for more than eight hours a day were 46 per cent more likely to have a stroke than average, while people who slept for less than six hours were 18 per cent more likely to suffer one.
The lesson we can surmise from this research is that we should all be sleeping for around seven hours every night but while this might be an option for those who are without stress, jobs, social lives, children, cats, dogs, Netflix addictions and neighbours with house alarms, it is an unrealistic ideal for most of us, who manage five or six hours some nights, eight or nine on others.
The fact that this new research was seized on so excitedly by media organisations is not a representation of how useful it is but rather an indication of how obsessed with sleep we all are. In the age of clickbait, an article that promises you insight into the one thing you often get less of as you get richer (think of the poor bankers – they probably never go to sleep) is guaranteed to garner attention, especially if it hints at that other phenomenon we find impossible to control: death.
The real lesson, surely, is try to go to sleep at a reasonable hour, don’t freak yourself out how much sleep you are or aren’t getting, don’t be sloth-like and sleep for days at a time, and buy yourself a good pillow. Good pillows are paramount – someone needs to do research into this.