Parents have known for years that keeping their kids on a regular schedule is best for everyone involved. A new study indicates that parents should be following their own advice.
The study, conducted at Duke University, suggests that a regular bedtime and wake time are just as important for heart and metabolic health among older adults.
In a study of 1,978 older adults found people with irregular sleep patterns weighed more, had higher blood sugar, higher blood pressure, and a higher projected risk of having a heart attack or stroke within 10 years than those who slept and woke at the same times every day. Irregular sleepers were also more likely to report depression and stress than regular sleepers, both of which are tied to heart health. African-Americans had the most irregular sleep patterns compared to participants who were white, Chinese-American or Hispanic, the data showed.
The findings show an association — not a cause-and-effect relationship — between sleep regularity and heart and metabolic health.
“From our study, we can’t conclude that sleep irregularity results in health risks, or whether health conditions affect sleep,” said Jessica Lunsford-Avery, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “Perhaps all of these things are impacting each other.”
Still, the data suggest tracking sleep regularity could help identify people at risk of disease, and where health disparities may impact specific groups, such as African Americans.
“Heart disease and diabetes are extremely common in the United States, are extremely costly and also are leading causes of death in this country,” she said. “To the extent we can predict individuals at risk for these diseases, we may be able to prevent or delay their onset.”
Researchers plan to conduct more studies over longer periods in hopes of determining how biology causes changes in sleep regularity and vice-versa.
“Perhaps there’s something about obesity that disrupts sleep regularity,” Lunsford-Avery said. “Or, as some research suggests, perhaps poor sleep interferes with the body’s metabolism which can lead to weight gain, and it’s a vicious cycle. With more research, we hope to understand what’s going on biologically, and perhaps then we could say what’s coming first or which is the chicken and which is the egg.”