Want to live longer? Then make sleep a priority. Following just five sleep habits adds nearly 5 years to men’s lives and nearly 2.5 years to women’s lives, new research shows, reports CNN.

“If people have all these ideal sleep behaviors, they are more likely to live longer,” said study coauthor Dr. Frank Qian, a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School. “If we can improve sleep overall, and identifying sleep disorders is especially important, we may be able to prevent some of this premature mortality.”

What do you need to do? First, make sure you get a full seven to eight hours of sleep every night. For many people, this is difficult: according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three Americans suffer from sleep deprivation.

But you don’t just need to stay in bed longer — you also need more uninterrupted, restful sleep. This means that you should not wake up during the night or have trouble falling asleep more than twice a week. You should also feel well-rested when you wake up at least five days a week. And finally, you shouldn’t use sleeping pills to fall asleep.

We’re talking about not just quality and quantity of sleep, but regularity, getting the same good sleep night after night,” said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. However, he did not participate in the research.

“Recent studies have shown irregularity in sleep timing and duration have been linked to metabolic abnormalities and higher cardiovascular disease risk,” he said. “Encouraging maintenance of regular sleep schedules with consistent sleep durations may be an important part of lifestyle recommendations for the prevention of heart disease.”

Difference between men and women

A preliminary study presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology analyzed data from more than 172,000 people who answered sleep questionnaires between 2013 and 2018.

Each of the five healthy sleep habits — falling asleep easily, staying asleep, sleeping seven to eight hours, waking up rested, and avoiding sleeping pills — was assigned a number. People received points based on how many of the five habits they had.

About four years later, the researchers compared those scores with data from the US National Death Index records to see if their sleep behavior contributed to early death from certain diseases or any other cause.

The team of scientists then took into account other potential causes of increased risk of death, such as alcohol use, low socioeconomic status and pre-existing medical conditions.

“Compared to individuals who had zero to one favorable sleep factors, those who had all five were 30% less likely to die for any reason, 21% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, 19% less likely to die from cancer, and 40% less likely to die of causes other than heart disease or cancer,” according to a statement on the study.

Men who followed all five healthy sleep habits had a life expectancy of 4.7 years longer than those who followed none or only one of them.

The effect of healthy sleep habits was much smaller for women, with those who followed all five sleep habits gaining 2.4 years compared to those who followed none or just one.

“That was an interesting part of the study for me, and I hope we can find that answer with more research,” Dasgupta said.

One possible reason for this gender difference, he said, could be the difficulty in diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea in women, a potentially fatal condition in which breathing stops every few minutes. The more severe the apnea, the greater the risk of coronary heart disease, heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes.

“Women with obstructive sleep apnea often get underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed because they may not present with the classic symptoms that we see when we’re evaluating men,” Dasgupta said. “Maybe we need to ask different questions or look at different parameters, or is there something we’re missing here?”

Proper sleep hygiene

Is your score less than five? Don’t worry — the good news is that you can easily train your brain to sleep better by practicing something called “sleep hygiene.” It is important to go to bed at the same time for the majority of nights and wake up at the same time every morning, even on weekends and holidays.

Make sure your sleeping environment is optimal (preferably cool and dark) and block out noise. Avoid alcohol before bed – you may think you’re falling asleep easier, but when your liver finishes metabolizing alcohol at 3 am, your body will wake up, experts say.

At least one hour before bedtime, it is necessary to avoid blue light and distractions. Try meditation, yoga, or warm baths – anything that relaxes you.