Scientists find consistent sleep a major health indicator over sleep duration

Woman sleeping in bed with brown teddy bear

New research is changing the way we define "good sleep."

Scientists now believe our bodies benefit most when our sleep is consistent, not just long, a new study published in the scientific journal “Sleep" shows. Sleeping eight hours is great, but it may not be the key to better health independently.

Researchers from Harvard University and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia followed the sleep habits of 60,000 people to explore the link between premature mortality and sleep patterns.

The study, though dense, simply found that participants with the most regular sleep, meaning the time they went to bed and the time they woke, had up to a 40% lower risk of death by any cause including cancer and cardiometabolic conditions, according to the study.

Of course, researchers still state that sleep duration is important to maintaining good health and still contributes to longevity, but that duration should be paired with a consistent sleep schedule as "sleep regularity is a stronger predictor of mortality risk than sleep duration," the study states.

How to develop a consistent sleep pattern

Anyone can set reminders for when to wind down and alarms for when to wake up, but it takes more than that to prepare for good rest. Here are some tips to developing a long-lasting sleep routine, according previous reporting by USA TODAY.

A man sleeping soundly in his bed.
  • Stay consistent - A regular bed and wake-up time can help set your biological clock to become sleepy at the same time every day. 
  • Allow yourself time to wind down - Experts recommend things like meditation, a warm bath or shower, reading, or listening to calming music. 
  • Protect your "sleep space" - The winding down should happen before going to your place of rest. Your place of rest should be a cool, dark, quiet and comfortable.
  • What to avoid before bed - Avoid things like alcohol, food, caffeine and electronics, all linked to poor sleep hygiene.
  • Exercise daily - Several studies have linked increased aerobic exercise to better sleep quality.

How is your REM sleep?If you're feeling tired you might not be getting enough.

Clare Mulroy contributed to this story.