Study Identifies 4 Sleep Patterns to See Impact on Long-Term Health

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More than half of the participants were identified as insomnia sleepers and nappers, two suboptimal sleep patterns linked with an increased risk of a chronic condition.

Study Identifies 4 Sleep Patterns to See Impact on Long-Term Health

Soomi Lee, PhD

Credit: PennState

A new study identified 4 sleep patterns—good sleepers, weekend catch-up sleepers, insomnia sleepers, and nappers—and found people were unlikely to change their sleep patterns over 10 years.1,2 However, some sleep patterns bring more harm than others, such as insomnia leading to poorer long-term health.

“These results may suggest that it is very difficult to change our sleep habits because sleep health is embedded into our overall lifestyle,” said lead investigator Soomi Lee, PhD, from Pennsylvania State University, in a press release.2 “It may also suggest that people still don’t know about the importance of their sleep and about sleep health behaviors.”

Investigators conducted a study to identify various sleep health phenotypes in adults and see how sleep health phenotypes transform over time.1 They also wanted to assess the sleep health phenotypes with the risk of chronic conditions.

Leveraging longitudinal data from the Midlife in the United States study (2004 – 2006 and 2013 – 2017), 3683 participants self-reported on sleep health including regularity, satisfaction, alertness, efficiency, and duration, as well as the number and type of chronic conditions. Investigators also collected data on covariates, such as age, sex, race, education, partnered status, number of children, work status, smoking, alcohol, and physical activity.

Ultimately, the study identified 4 sleep health phenotypes: good sleepers, insomnia sleepers, weekend catch-up sleepers, and nappers. Good sleepers had optimal sleep habits across all data points, weekend catch-up sleepers had irregular sleep with short average sleep duration but longer sleep duration on weekends or non-workdays, insomnia sleepers had sleep problems due to insomnia symptoms, short sleep duration, high daytime tiredness, and a long time to fall asleep, and nappers had good sleep most of the time but with frequent daytime naps. More than half of the participants were identified as insomnia sleepers or nappers.

“We need to make more efforts to educate the public about good sleep health,” Lee said.2 “There are sleep hygiene behaviors that people could do to improve their sleep, such as not using cell phones in bed, exercising regularly, and avoiding caffeine in the late afternoon.”

Many participants (77%) did not change their sleep pattern over 10 years, especially for nappers and insomnia sleepers. Participants were more likely to be insomnia sleepers if they had lower education and were unemployed; nappers were more likely to be older adults and retirees.

Particularly for insomnia sleepers, their sleep patterns were linked to a 71 – 188% greater risk of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and frailty.1 With good sleepers as a reference, fully adjusted models showed insomnia sleepers had an increased number of chronic conditions by 28 – 81%. Nappers also had an increased risk for diabetes, cancer, and frailty.

The sleep patterns of good sleepers and weekend catch-up sleepers were not associated with chronic conditions.

The investigators pointed out how the Midlife in the United States study may not represent the whole population as it is mostly comprised of healthy adults. However, many participants did have suboptimal sleep patterns.

Lee stated an individual’s phase of life, economic stressors, and access to health resources can impact sleep habits.2 Thus, Lee suggests the need for interventions to promote healthy sleep. However, programs should not be a “one-size-fits-all” as they should be personalized on several factors, such as the risk of chronic conditions and socioeconomic position.

“Sleep is an everyday behavior,” Lee said. “Sleep is also modifiable, So, if we can improve sleep almost every day, what outcomes might we see after several months, or even several years? Better sleeping habits can make many significant differences, from improving social relationships and work performance to promoting long-term healthy behaviors and healthy aging.”

References

  1. Lee S, Smith CE, Wallace ML, et al. 10-year Stability of an Insomnia Sleeper Phenotype and Its Association with Chronic Conditions. Psychosom Med. Published online February 16, 2024. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000001288
  2. Researchers Identify Distinct Sleep Types and Their Impact on Long-Term Health. EurekAlert! March 12, 2024. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1037386. Accessed March 18, 2024.
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