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April 26, 2017

How You Sleep Matters to Insurers

Summary:

The data could be valuable to life and health insurers because the amount and quality of sleep provide insights into our long-term health.

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Sleep allows the body and the brain vital repair and recovery time, giving hormones the opportunity to replenish. Both inadequate and excessive sleep have been associated with early death. We are getting a better understanding of the health consequences of low levels of physical activity combined with inadequate or excessive sleep.

Having at least seven hours of sleep each night has been described as a “health necessity” for adults. Less leads to reduced cardiovascular fitness and metabolic disruption as a result of altered hormone levels, which can cause weight gain. Excessive sleep is probably evidence of an underlying chronic illness that will itself shorten life.

Wearables and accompanying apps help monitor phases of shallow and deep sleep at night. The amount of time spent in and out of each phase can be influenced by underlying health. Sensors in the devices can detect when a person is lying in bed and moving, generating data that could be valuable to life and health insurers because the amount and quality of sleep provide important insights into our long-term health.

Sleep is influenced by genetic, medical, behavioral and environmental factors, and problems often increase with age. How well we sleep is governed by melatonin (released from the pineal gland), matched by a fall in levels of the activity-related hormone serotonin. These changes align our body clocks with the circadian rhythms of day and night.

See also: Confessions of Sleep Apnea Man  

Regular bedtime in an environment with suitable levels of light, sound and temperature is important for “sleep hygiene.” Smoking, alcohol, caffeine or food before bed and exposure to “blue” light from tablets or screens can all disrupt sleep. Poor sleep may result from chronic health problems, anxiety or depression but causes psychological distress in its own right. Work performance, judgment and social relations are harmed. Excessive daytime tiredness increases the chance of accidents.

Disorders of sleep include nightmares and sleepwalking. Sleep apnea is most associated with excess mortality. Often obese, those suffering from sleep apnea are at particularly high risk of cardiovascular problems. The partners of these patients also often suffer from chronically disturbed sleep.

While consumer-grade wearables and apps may lack the detailed analysis in sleep studies that includes core body temperature, hormone levels, circadian rhythm and brain activity, these devices offer an approximation of sleep architecture that could help individuals improve sleep hygiene. For insurers, self-reported sleep data could be incorporated within wellness and fitness product protocols in the future.

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About the Author

Ross Campbell is chief underwriter, research and development, based in Gen Re’s London office.

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