Irregular sleep habits have been linked to health problems such as high blood pressure and cardiac issues. Now, a new study shows that it can also lead to a higher risk of dementia.
The study, led by researchers at Monash University, analysed sleep patterns of 88,094 people with an average age of 62 in the United Kingdom. After seven years of follow-up, researchers found a link between sleep irregularity and the risk of dementia. When compared to people with an average sleep regularity index, the risk of dementia was highest for people who had the most irregular sleep, the university’s statement revealed.
The findings, published in the journal Neurology, also indicated that moderately regular sleep was equally beneficial. Although sleep recommendations often focus on hitting the ideal amount, usually seven to eight hours a night, regularity is also important, the researchers said in the statement. Irregular sleep habits can be caused by shift work, having young children, lifestyle factors including living in a noisy neighbourhood, and chronic conditions such as pain and diabetes.
Such habits can disrupt the internal biological clock, which controls people’s 24-hour circadian rhythms, the researchers added. “Many of our body's processes, including the metabolism of our blood sugars and fats and control of blood pressure follow a 24-hour diurnal (day/night) rhythm,” senior author Mathew Pase explained in the statement. “Disruption to these rhythms may increase the risk of hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity,” Pase added.
The researchers suggest that people with irregular sleep may only need to improve their sleep regularity to prevent dementia. Furthermore, having consistent bed and wake time routines, avoiding daytime napping, sitting in daylight and minimal exposure to artificial and blue light at night are some ways to improve sleep habits.
Previous studies have also shown that irregular sleep patterns can affect physical as well as mental health. A study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry showed that consistently sleeping less than five hours a night might increase the risk of developing depressive symptoms.
These findings show that a good sleep schedule is not just about getting proper rest but is also important for overall well-being.