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We all know that getting sufficient sleep is vital for keeping the body healthy and the mind entirely focused. However, things are not as simple as making sure you had at least seven hours of ZZZ’s. New research on sleep patterns shows that establishing a sleeping routine is just as important for heart and metabolic health of older adults.

In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists and researchers at the Duke Health and the Duke Clinical Research Institute found out that in order to stay healthy, it’s not only important to sleep seven to nine hours per night, but also to have regular sleep patterns, or simply explained, to go to bed and wake up approximately at the same time every day.

The study was conducted on almost 2,000 older adults, and the results suggest that people with irregular sleep patterns have higher blood sugar, weigh more, have higher blood pressure, and therefore, have higher risk to have a heart attack or a stroke in the next 10 years, compared to those who sleep and wake up approximately at the same time every day. Irregular sleeping patterns may also lead to higher risk of depression and stress which is also tied to heart and metabolic health.

Association between Sleep Regularity and Heart and Metabolic Health

The lead author of the study, Jessica Lunsford-Avery, Ph.D. and an assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke Health and the Duke Clinical Research Institute, says that for their current research, they cannot conclude sleep irregularity results in health risks. However, data shows that tracking sleep regularity may identify people at risk of heart and metabolic disease.

This may be very useful because it’s a wide known fact that heart disease and diabetes are extremely common in the US, and that the mentioned medical conditions are one of the leading causes of death in the country. By being able to predict and calculate the risk for these diseases, we will also be able to prevent it or at least, delay their onset.

How Was the Study Conducted?

All participants of the study had to track their sleep schedules down to the minute. That way researchers could observe and study even the most subtle changes. Even small changes, such as going to bed at 10:15 p.m. instead of the usual 10 p.m. were measured and linked to the health of the participators.

The study was carried out on older adults aged from 54 to 93. People with diagnosed sleep disorders were not included in the research.

The research also tracked the duration of the participators’ sleep and preferred timing, such as whether someone prefers to go to bed early or to stay late. Researchers found out that people with hypertension tend to sleep more, while people with obesity are mostly night owls.

As one may expect, irregular sleepers were sleepier during the day and less active than the ones who had an established bedtime routine. Further research aims to find out what’s going on biologically in the body of irregular sleepers, with the hope to identify what comes first –for example, does obesity disrupt sleep regularity, or as some studies suggest, poor sleep interferes with the body’s metabolism and leads to weight gain? The results of further study should help us understand better and fight both issues.

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