Prolonged sleep deprivation increases the risk of suffering from a stroke or heart disease, according to a major long-term study based on the experiences of hundreds of thousands of people across eight countries.
The trend for late nights and early mornings was described as "a ticking time bomb" by the researchers at the University of Warwick who linked a lack of sleep to a range of disorders which often result in early death.
Chronic short sleep produce hormones and chemicals in the body, which increases the risk of developing heart disease, strokes and other conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, according to Dr Michelle Miller of the University of Warwick.
She and Professor Francesco Cappuccio, who co-authored a report published in the European Heart Journal, followed up evidence spanning seven to 25 years from more than 470,000 participants across eight countries, including Japan, the US, Sweden and the UK.
Professor Francesco Cappuccio said: "If you sleep less than six hours per night and have disturbed sleep you stand a 48% greater chance of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15% greater chance of developing or dying from a stroke. The trend for late nights and early mornings is actually a ticking time bomb for our health so you need to act now to reduce your risk of developing these life-threatening conditions."
Professor Cappuccio added: "There is an expectation in today's society to fit more into our lives. The whole work/life balance struggle is causing too many of us to trade in precious sleeping time to ensure we complete all the jobs we believe are expected of us."
"But in doing so, we are significantly increasing the risk of suffering a stroke or developing cardiovascular disease resulting in, for example, heart attacks."
He also warned of the implications of sleeping too much, more than nine hours at a stretch, which may be an indicator of illness, such as cardiovascular disease.
He said: "By ensuring you have about seven hours' sleep a night, you are protecting your future health, and reducing the risk of developing chronic illnesses. The link is clear from our research: get the sleep you need to stay healthy and live longer."
Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "We know sleep is essential for staying healthy and this research adds further evidence about the possible consequences for our health if we don't get enough.
"Although there appears to be an association between heart and circulatory disease and lack of sleep, it is not yet fully understood. There seem to be some hormonal and chemical changes in the body when lack of sleep occurs, so over a period of time these may have some impact on the heart and circulatory system."
"There are plenty of reasons why sleep deprivation is a problem. Easy internet access, a growing number of TV channels, financial worries and longer working hours all distract us from going to bed. But it's important more of us make sleep a priority and get our restorative six-eight hours a night."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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