Sleep study results

Scientists from some of the world’s leading universities at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Manchester and Surrey have warned that cutting our sleep is leading to serious health problems.

This is based around the impact on our body clock, which drives huge changes in the human body, altering alertness, mood, physical strength and even the risk of a heart attack in a daily rhythm.

Apparently this arises from our evolutionary past when we were naturally active in the day and resting at night. Scientists now warn that modern life and the 24-hour society, mean many people are now living against their body clocks, with damaging consequences for their health and wellbeing.

The study shows that people are getting between one and two hours less sleep a night than 60 years ago. One of the study’s authors from Oxford University said:

“We are the supremely arrogant species; we feel we can abandon four billion years of evolution and ignore the fact that we have evolved under a light-dark cycle. What we do as a species, perhaps uniquely, is override the clock. And long-term acting against the clock can lead to serious health problems.”

The study says this is an issue affecting the whole of society, not just shift workers although this was an acute problem in teenagers. Furthermore, emerging evidence suggests modern technology is now keeping us up later into the night and cutting sleep.

Light is the most powerful synchroniser of our internal biological clocks and energy efficient light bulbs as well as smart-phones, tablets and computers had high levels of light in the blue end of the spectrum, which disrupt the body clock.

The Harvard University author says: “It’s a big concern that we’re being exposed to much more light, sleeping less and, as a consequence may suffer from many chronic diseases.”

Genetic research is now uncovering how living life against the clock is damaging our health. About 10% of human DNA has a 24-hour pattern of activity, which is behind all the behavioural and physiological changes in the body. But studies have shown rhythm can be disrupted by short sleep duration, or shift work.

Professors at The University of Surrey said there was a large impact on how the body functioned:

“These are all fundamental biological pathways that can be underlying links to some of the negative health outcomes that we see, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and potentially cancer in people who don’t get enough sleep or do shift-work.”

The University of Cambridge author said the body clock influences every biological process in the human body and the health consequences of living against the clock were ‘pretty clear cut’ particularly in breast cancer.

He said: “Try to live more rhythmically, in tune with the environment and not have too much bright light before bedtime because it will affect the clock and sleep.”

The University of Manchester, said the problems caused by living against the body clock are a major problem for society:

“You might not notice any short-term changes in your health following circadian disruption, but over a long period of time, the consequences could be quite severe. Governments need to take this seriously, starting perhaps with reviewing the health consequences of shift work, and society and legislators needs to take this on board.” 

Finally, sleep is something we should all try to achieve or accommodate on some level. The irony is that in the end, we will always have to make time for illness, so perhaps we should make time now to work on our sleep.

Source: BBC News 13 May 2014

16 May, 2014

6 thoughts on “Sleep study results

  1. We probably have known for many years about the importance of sleep to health, but this study seems to have objectively confirmed those thoughts. I can remember being told as a teenager to get a good night’s sleep and probably told and still tell my children the same!

    It’s the same old story really. We don’t think about it while we’re having a good time, going to bed in the early hours or staying up to all night to meet a deadline, but clearly not getting enough and presumably not getting to sleep at the right time as well, can have serious health consequences.

    Working shifts and unsociable hours are both recent consequences of recessional times and it seems that we’re in a catch 22. People need to work but can only find those sorts of jobs, but may well be endangering their health by doing so. How terrible.

    I suspect this will be another health issues (like mobile phone masts) that is largely ignored, until future generations look back and wonder how and why the health problems have arisen.

    1. I agree with all the points you’ve raised. I think we could do better with sleep. For some reason we don’t seem to place too much importance on sleep. I’m not sure why. We also need to have the right amount of sleep a night, and don’t seem to place too much importance on that either.

      I remember my parents telling me too how important it was for me to sleep! I probably wouldn’t have agreed with them back then, but I certainly agree with them now.

      We all come through the other end a lot wiser, when we grow.

  2. It would make sense that not having a proper sleep schedule would cause problems in the long run. I’ve tried working 3rd shift a few times, but it just didn’t feel right. We do live in a 24 hour world where people don’t always have the luxury of a normal sleep cycle.

    I’ve always been a night owl, which is bad enough when it comes to getting the right amount of sleep. It’s no wonder people are getting burned out, when they’re trying to burn the candle at both ends!

    1. Thanks Randy. Shift work must be incredibly hard, particularly when your body is telling you to sleep, but you can’t, because you have to work.

      I was never in a job where I needed to do shift work, but I would imagine it is very hard. When we’re young the last thing we want to do is sleep. I agree with you that a lack of sleep can be a contributing factor of our many health issues, particularly if we choose to burn the candle at both ends!

  3. Good post and information. I agree with everything here.

    I think it is very important to get adequate sleep and that includes going into REM sleep. I think that is where my problem is. I had a sleep study a few years ago and they said I wasn’t going into REM sleep or stage 4 because I was having “P” waves, which means I was having pain during sleep and it was keeping me out of that important restful stage of sleep.

    Now I fall asleep during the day. I don’t know if this is still the problem, if it’s just another problem or just my life. I will hopefully be seeing a sleep specialist to study this further.

    1. Thanks Lisa. Yes I am sure a sleep study will help you further. It sounds as though your Fibromyalgia may have something to do with your sleep, because you refer to pain while you sleep.

      Perhaps your sleep study will shed more light on that in due course. Good luck. In the meantime, I hope you manage to get some sleep and feel slightly more rested.

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