The study focused on health risks that can happen because of irregular sleep and they're more severe when compared to those of less sleep duration.
Having a sleepless night can easily ruin our whole day's mood. People have a general notion that sleeping for fewer hours every day than what's recommended is the only sleep-related health issue. But, a recent study done by Harvard researchers shows that maintaining regularity of sleep is more important than focusing on sleep duration. Published by the Oxford University Press, this study, spanning between 2013 to 2016, involved 103,669 participants between the ages of 40 and 69 whose sleep patterns were assessed for 7 days.
The study mainly focused on how having just a few hours of sleep every day and having an irregular sleep pattern that varies each day can impact heart-related and cancer mortality risks. According to the results of this study, "Sleep duration was a significant predictor of cardiometabolic mortality and other-cause mortality risks, but was not a significant predictor of cancer mortality risk. Sleep regularity remained a significant predictor of cardiometabolic, cancer, and other-cause mortality risks." This research goes one step ahead of older studies by comparing the risks of sleep irregularity and sleep duration and reveals that "sleep regularity is generally a stronger predictor of mortality risk than sleep duration." Regular sleep pattern reduces around 20-48% risk of premature death compared to irregular sleep.
As per the Harvard research's conclusion, people need to "maintain more similar sleep times between days to improve sleep regularity, rather than devoting a greater proportion of the day to sleep." Recently, the National Sleep Foundation's panel featuring Harvard-affiliated researchers discussed how regularity and duration of sleep were vital for a longer lifespan. Matthew Weaver, a member of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, speaking to The Harvard Gazette about this explained, "Sleep regularity is an important component of healthy sleep. It’s not just duration, but also regularity and quality. Sleep is the third pillar of health, equally important as diet and exercise, if not more."
Pointing out how catch-up sleep can compensate for irregular sleep, Weaver said, "There’s a tradeoff that comes with catch-up sleep and according to the evidence, we should strive for more regular sleep," and suggested, "If you’re sleep deprived during the week, extending sleep on the weekend by one to two hours was associated with better cardiovascular health, less inflammation, and improved metabolism. Going beyond two hours didn’t seem to be beneficial." Weaver denoted, "People know sleep is important, but maybe they’re not quite at the point where they think it’s important enough to make a change in their lives."
Weaver recommends people make some lifestyle changes saying, "Plan your day so that you get the sleep that you need. Make it as regular as you can and prioritize sleep," and adds, "If you need to go to bed at 10 o’clock every night to get the full amount of sleep you need, then, ideally, you would settle into a pattern that is regular enough where after a little while you don’t even need to set an alarm to wake yourself up and you would have a healthy, regular sleep schedule that works for you." The sleep expert further continues that sleep is critical of all other things to maintain a healthy and happy life.