Getting sufficient sleep is an important part of our health, both mentally and physically. The body needs to recover for us to function effectively during the day, and lessen the chance of catching an illness.

A new study published in the Scientific Reports journal has highlighted the impact that a disturbed sleep schedule can have on cardiometabolic health risks such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

It had already been established that not getting sufficient sleep, and having a circadian misalignment (sleeping at inappropriate times such as during the day) was associated with an increased cardiometabolic risk. However, this latest research suggests that the connection between sleep problems and cardiometabolic conditions runs deeper.

What did the study involve?

The study involved 2156 people aged 45-84, who were located in six regions across the USA and were from four different ethnic groups (Caucasian, African-American, Chinese-American, and Hispanic). The baseline assessment for the study took place between 2000 and 2002, during which the participants were followed up to find about potential future cardiovascular diseases.

The measures for the study were a combination of actigraphy and self-reports. Actigraphy is the monitoring of rest cycles, in this case measuring physical activity and light exposure from a device worn on the wrist. The participants were required to wear the devices for seven days, and keep a sleep diary.

What were the findings?

The main finding was that sleep irregularity had the most significant relationship with obesity, high levels of blood glucose and haemoglobin AIC. The study also showed that irregular sleep patterns were closely related to reduced physical activity, as well as an increased propensity to sleep during the day, and overall reduced light exposure.

Furthermore, there was a higher projected risk for the decade following the start of the study for developing cardiovascular disease. It was also surmised that stress and depression had a close correlation with irregular sleep, and those participants who suffered from high blood pressure had more irregular sleep than those who did not.

What could this mean for the future?

The paper accompanying the study also outlined the possible benefits and limitations from the outcomes. The researchers hypothesised that consistent sleep irregularity could be used as an indicator and precursor for identifying individuals who were susceptible to developing cardiometabolic diseases and the possible prevention opportunities that this opens up. They also suggested that future studies should contain information relating to employment, as this study was not able to exclude shift workers who, in general, are more likely to develop cardiometabolic conditions.

If you are struggling to get regular sleep, then establishing a time at which you wind down and go to bed will help. It can also be useful to create a relaxing atmosphere in the bedroom, by having on soft lights before bedtime, and avoiding looking at an electronic screen and reading a book instead.