DURHAM, N. C. — Going to bed on time was extremely important — at least to our parents — when many of us were children. But moms and dads may want to be just as vigilant about their own bedtime as they are with their kids, new research shows. A study by researchers at Duke University found that going to bed and waking up at a regular time every day is just as beneficial to adults as it is too kids.
It’s well-documented that logging more than seven hours of quality sleep brings about positive health outcomes and helps prevent common diseases and conditions from psychosis to heart disease. But many studies focus on the length and quality of sleep, not the routine itself. Duke researchers sought to examine the effects of a regular bedtime (both going to sleep and waking up) on the heart and metabolic health of adults for the study.
The research team recruited 1,978 older adults between the ages of 54 and 93. Using devices that tracked sleep duration to the minute, the participants recorded their sleep schedules. The researchers then measured several health indicators to see the effects of a regular bedtime versus disrupted or fluctuating ones.
The data showed that people with irregular sleep patterns typically weighed more, had higher blood sugar, higher blood pressure, and a higher risk of heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years than those who kept a consistent sleep schedule.
The study also logged the amount of sleep for each participant, as well as their preferred time to hit the sack — either late or early in the evening. They found that keeping a consistent sleep schedule was most accurate compared to these other factors when it came to predicting one’s heart disease and metabolic disease risk.
Dr. Jessica Lunsford-Avery, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke, warns that the study merely presents an association, not a cause-and-effect.
“From our study, we can’t conclude that sleep irregularity results in health risks, or whether health conditions affect sleep. Perhaps all of these things are impacting each other,” she explains in a news release.
Lunsford-Avery says that irregular sleepers were most likely to be tired during the day and less active than people who follow a routine bedtime. The authors plan to continue their investigation into how sleeping habits affects behavior, health status, and lifestyle, and vice versa.
“Perhaps there’s something about obesity that disrupts sleep regularity,” says Lunsford-Avery. “Or, as some research suggests, perhaps poor sleep interferes with the body’s metabolism which can lead to weight gain, and it’s a vicious cycle. With more research, we hope to understand what’s going on biologically, and perhaps then we could say what’s coming first or which is the chicken and which is the egg.”
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.