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What’s So Bad About Disturbed, Poor, and Irregular Sleep? A Lot, Says Research

“The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to make the world seem right. On the other hand, everyone is familiar with the disruption to daily life that often occurs after a disturbed, poor or irregular night’s sleep. How bad can such sleep be? The latest research points to a number of unfortunate, and sometimes preventable, consequences from disturbed sleep.

Poor Academic Performance Tied to Irregular Sleep

College students often suffer from “considerable sleep deficiency,” according to research published in Scientific Reports. Researchers said that sleep regularity is positively associated with academic performance, and that sleep irregularity is independent of sleep duration. Irregular sleepers, researchers note, have delayed sleep timing and tend to have more daytime sleep episodes. Why certain individuals develop irregular sleep, although an important question, was not directly addressed in the study. However, researchers said that their study findings suggest that light interventions used to advance circadian rhythms and education about the importance of regular sleep schedules may help undergraduates with irregular sleep patterns.

Lack of Sleep Associated with Risky Teen Behavior

Research published by the American Psychological Association shows that a majority of today’s teens are not getting the right amount of sleep for their developmental and overall health. Furthermore, according to researchers, those teens getting insufficient or disordered sleep may be at increased risk for engaging in risky sexual behaviors, such as having unprotected sex, or having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The recommended amount of sleep for teens is 8-10 hours per night. Without sufficient sleep, teens may have increased potential for taking sexual risks due to compromised decision-making and impulsivity.

Irregular Sleep Patterns Linked to Metabolic Diseases

Results of a study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in Diabetes Care, showed that every hour of night-to-night difference in time going to bed or the night’s sleep duration multiplies the adverse effect that may lead to metabolic diseases. These include a higher risk of diabetes, obesity and other metabolic disorders. In addition, during a 6-year follow-up, the variations in sleep duration and bedtimes occurred before the development of metabolic dysfunction, which, say the researchers, provides some evidence to support a causal link between irregular sleep and metabolic dysfunction.

Disturbed Sleep Associated with Mental Health Issues After Natural Disaster

It may seem axiomatic, yet the first study to look at sleep health consequences to individuals after the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti found that survivors of the natural disaster were more likely to have mental health problems afterward. The study, from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, was taken two years after the disastrous event. Researchers noted that 42 percent showed clinically significant levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and almost 22 percent had symptoms of depression. Also noteworthy was that resilience did not appear to be a buffer against disturbed sleep. As a result of their findings, researchers stressed the need to assess and treat sleep issues, such as PTSD, among survivors of disasters, saying that sleep health should be a “major component of all public and global health programs and specifically in humanitarian crises.”

High Blood Pressure Linked to Sleepless Nights

Feeling out of sorts after tossing and turning at night may have something to do with the spike in blood pressure that may result from the irregular sleep. In a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers from the University of Arizona said the blood pressure spike may be one possible explanation for why sleep problems and sleep disorders have been demonstrated to increase heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease risk. During the study, in which participants wore actigraphy monitors (wristwatch-like monitors measuring movement), those who had lower sleep efficiency had a blood pressure increase during their restless night’s sleep, as well as higher systolic blood pressure the following day. Researchers emphasized how important sleep is for heart health, so improving sleep is a valuable priority.

Sleep Problems and Alzheimer’s Disease Linked — But Which Comes First?

Researched published by the American Physiological Society explored the pathophysiological factors linking sleep disturbances and Alzheimer’s disease. They noted that much Alzheimer’s research focuses on two proteins present in the brain of those with Alzheimer’s disease: amyloid beta and tau. Amyloid beta is believed involved in learning and the brain’s ability to adapt and change, while tau aids in regulating normal signaling between neuronal cells. Individuals with Alzheimer’s have both an amyloid beta buildup and tau tangles in the brain. What researchers found is that a single night of sleep deprivation increases tau levels by as much as 50 percent in cerebrospinal fluid. On the other hand, quality sleep appears to be able to help the body clear excess proteins. Still, researchers noted, it’s unknown if sleep disruption aggravates Alzheimer’s disease symptoms and speeds progression, or if disrupted sleep “actually initiates the cascade of [Alzheimer’s disease] development.”

Another study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that sleep history in middle age may foreshadow pathology of Alzheimer’s disease later. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley found that a decrease in sleep quality between the ages of 50 and 70 is linked with higher levels of amyloid beta and tau in the brain, noting that brain activity changes and sleep quality could be a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease.

How You Breathe When You Sleep May Be Linked to Accelerated Aging

It’s not hard to tell when someone’s sleeping peacefully, since their regular breathing is a telltale indicator. In a study looking at the adverse effects of untreated sleep-disordered breathing, researchers from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found there’s biological evidence to support the link between disordered breathing and accelerated aging. Obstructive sleep apnea is one example of sleep-disordered breathing, and it affects nearly 30 million U.S. adults. A surprising study finding was that the associations of accelerated aging and sleep-disordered breathing were stronger in women than men, which researchers said may suggest women may be particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of sleep-disordered breathing.

What’s So Bad About Disturbed, Poor, and Irregular Sleep? A Lot, Says Research


Suzanne Kane

Suzanne Kane is a Los Angeles-based writer, blogger and editor. Passionate about helping others live a vibrant and purposeful life, she writes daily for her website, www.suzannekane.net. She is a regular contributor to Psych Central. You can reach her at [email protected].

APA Reference
Kane, S. (2019). What’s So Bad About Disturbed, Poor, and Irregular Sleep? A Lot, Says Research. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 20, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/whats-so-bad-about-disturbed-poor-and-irregular-sleep-a-lot-says-research/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 24 Jun 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 24 Jun 2019
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