Regular bedtime may benefit health of older adults

While sufficient sleep is important to keep the body healthy and the mind sharp, researchers at Duke University Medical Center say having a regular bedtime and wake time may also benefit the heart and metabolic health of older adults.

Their study of 1,978 older adults published Sept. 21 in the journal Scientific Reports, found people with irregular sleep patterns weighed more, had higher blood sugar, higher blood pressure, and a higher projected risk of having a heart attack or stroke with 10 years than people who slept and woke at the same times every day.

Study results were also posted on Sept. 21 in EurekAlert, an online publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The study found that irregular sleepers were more likely to report depression and stress than regular sleepers, both of which are tied to heart health, and that African-Americans had the most irregular sleep patterns compared to those in the study who are white, Chinese-American or Hispanic.

Study findings show an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship, between sleep regularity, and heart and metabolic health.

“From our study, we can’t conclude that sleep irregularity results in health risks, or whether health conditions affect sleep,” said Jessica Lunsford-Avery, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and the study’s lead author. “Perhaps all of these things are impacting each other.”

“Perhaps there’s something about obesity that disrupts sleep regularity,” she said. “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.”