Lack of Sleep May Undermine Long-Term Health

Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis is very important for one’s future health, partly because of how it affects other lifestyle factors, according to a new study by University of Copenhagen researchers.

“This study shows that sleep affects our ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and when sleep deteriorates we are more likely to make unhealthy lifestyle changes,” said researcher Alice Jessie Clark, Ph.D., from the university’s Department of Public Health.

The research was conducted as an international collaboration between established sleep researchers and epidemiologists from Denmark and Finland. More than 35,000 adult Finns participated in at least three consecutive waves of this large, longitudinal cohort study.

The findings show that maintaining a good night’s sleep tends to make it easier to keep a healthy lifestyle. For example, smokers who received adequate sleep at night were more likely to have quit smoking four years later, compared to smokers who either shortened their average sleep duration or experienced an increase in sleep disturbances.

Similar patterns were also found in relation to other negative lifestyle changes, with lack of sleep inflicting a higher risk of uptake of high-risk alcohol consumption (among non-risk consumers), of becoming physically inactive (among the initially physically active), and of becoming overweight or obese.

The researchers established strict criteria to determine which participants were eligible based on information from three successive waves of the study. This allowed ample time for observation between the sudden onset of impaired sleep and later changes in lifestyle among participants who had previously had a stable lifestyle and plenty of sleep.

For example, in order to determine the effect of onset of disturbed sleep on risk of becoming physically inactive, the researchers followed the group of physically active undisturbed sleepers for four years (from the first to the second wave).

They then followed the still active participants, some of which now suffered disturbed sleeping patterns, an additional four years (until the third wave) to determine whether the risk of becoming physically inactive differed between persistent normal sleepers and those who had experienced an increase in sleep disturbances.

“Better knowledge of the importance of sleep, not just for biological restitution, but also for making healthy lifestyle decisions, may help people make informed decisions about prioritizing how to spend the night — catching up on work emails, surfing social media or going to bed and ensuring a good night’s sleep,” said Clark.

The research has been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Source: University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences