Association of Rapid Eye Movement Sleep With Mortality


Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep has been linked with health outcomes, but little is known about the relationship between REM sleep and mortality.

This multicenter population-based cross-sectional study used data from the Outcomes of Sleep Disorders in Older Men (MrOS) Sleep Study and Wisconsin Sleep Cohort (WSC).

The MrOS cohort included 2675 individuals (2675 men [100%]; mean [SD] age, 76.3 [5.5] years) and was followed up for a median (interquartile range) of 12.1 (7.8-13.2) years. The WSC cohort included 1386 individuals (753 men [54.3%]; mean [SD] age, 51.5 [8.5] years) and was followed up for a median (interquartile range) of 20.8 (17.9-22.4) years.

MrOS participants had a 13% higher mortality rate for every 5% reduction in REM sleep (percentage REM sleep SD = 6.6%) after adjusting for multiple demographic, sleep, and health covariates (age-adjusted hazard ratio, 1.12; fully adjusted hazard ratio, 1.13; 95% CI, 1.08-1.19).

Results were similar for cardiovascular and other causes of death. Possible threshold effects were seen on the Kaplan-Meier curves, particularly for cancer; individuals with less than 15% REM sleep had a higher mortality rate compared with individuals with 15% or more for each mortality outcome with odds ratios ranging from 1.20 to 1.35.

Findings were replicated in the WSC cohort despite younger age, inclusion of women, and longer follow-up (hazard ratio, 1.17; 95% CI, 1.03-1.34). A random forest model identified REM sleep as the most important sleep stage associated with survival.

In conclusion, decreased percentage REM sleep was associated with greater risk of all-cause, cardiovascular, and other noncancer-related mortality in 2 independent cohorts.