Previous research has shown how sleep deprivation increases the risk of serious health problems like heart disease and diabetes. However, recent studies also suggest that an irregular sleep schedule could also place your health at risk.
This research indicates that those who have consistent variations in their sleep routine could be at an increased risk of health issues like cardiovascular disease and depression.
It is recommended adults need at least 7 hours sleep each day. However, there are some occupations which make maintaining a regular sleep routine very difficult.
Emergency first responders, health workers and shift workers will tend to have an irregular sleep schedule, and this can lead to sleep problems. For others it is something they may slip into as they attempt to sleep less some days and catch up on others to fit around their lifestyle.
How an Irregular Schedule Influences Sleep
Having an irregular schedule can affect the circadian rhythm, the body clock which helps determine our 24-hour sleeping and waking cycle. Variations to sleeping patterns can cause biological and metabolic changes which may affect the body clock and your sleep/wake cycle.
In a study published in Diabetes Care, an hour variability in the time you go to bed each night can increase the risk of metabolic syndrome by 23%. This is when you have at least three of the five metabolic risk factors linked to an irregular sleep schedule. The five risk factors are:
- High blood sugar levels
- Low levels of HDL cholesterol
- Abdominal obesity
- High levels of triglycerides
It’s not just the time you go to bed that matters, as variations in times you wake up can also lead to health complications. Another study reported that those with an irregular sleep schedule had twice the risk of a cardiovascular disease compared to those with a regular sleep pattern.
When our body clocks are impacted by poor quality of sleep, whether through lack of sleep or an irregular sleep schedule, it can result in inflammation. This increased inflammation in the body is seen as the possible cause of health issues such as heart disease and stroke linked to poor sleep. Inflammation can promote cholesterol plaque around the arteries.
Disruption to regular sleeping patterns can also see a reduction in leptin, a hormone that helps control body weight by helping us feel full, and therefore we eat less.
Low levels of leptin can see people eat more and exercise less, increasing the risk of obesity and the further health complications this can bring.
Anyone who has had just a single bad night’s sleep knows how much their concentration can be affected the following day, as well as how it can affect your mood.
People who have sleep problems and a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. However, an irregular schedule can also increase your risk of depression.
A study in Digital Medicine followed 2,115 interns enrolled in physician training programs, the type of job where irregular work schedules mean irregular sleep schedules too. Those who had irregular sleeping patterns showed higher levels of depression and reported lower mood ratings similar to people who are sleep deprived.
Tips on How to Deal With This Issue
While occupations with irregular work schedules can make it very difficult to maintain regular sleeping patterns, for others it can be a question of habit.
Catching up with work and watching TV late into the night, or sleeping more to make up for lost hours on the weekend, can add variability to sleep schedules.
The following are a few tips on how to maintain a regular sleeping schedule:
- Develop a night-time routine. Do not wait until you feel tired, but rather stick to a consistent bedtime.
- Get up at the same time each morning too. Sleeping in from time to time is fine, but too often and you will introduce variability into your sleep pattern.
- An afternoon nap when tired can help you stick to a bedtime routine.
- Exercising in the morning can be a great way to feel refreshed in the morning.
- Natural light from heading outdoors early morning can help calibrate your body clock while also improving your mood.
Sleep is vital for both the body and mind, but research suggests irregular sleeping patterns may increase the risk of serious health complications, including sleep disorders like insomnia.
Sleep apnea is another sleep disorder. Do you snore? This is a symptom of sleep apnea, a medical condition that greatly disturbs sleep. Talk to your doctor about your sleep problems and mention any symptoms like snoring. It's critical you get treatment for any sleep-related medical conditions -- to stay healthy and prevent medical problems like diabetes and heart disease.