Researchers affiliated with the University of Surrey and Northwestern University published findings in the Journal of Sleep Research on June 8, drawing on data from the U.K. Biobank. Of some 487,000 people across the U.K. enrolled in the study from 2006-2010, about one quarter answered “never/rarely” having sleep disturbances, 48% answered “sometimes,” and 28% responded “usually.”
Those reporting sleep issues had a higher body mass index (BMI), were older, and had a greater likelihood of being white, female, a current smoker and having depression and diabetes. While 2% of participants frequently experienced sleep disturbances and had diabetes, almost 70% didn’t face these issues, and 3% had diabetes but had better sleep quality. During 8.9 years of follow up, researchers noted 19,177 deaths from any cause, and some 3,800 deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease.
“Diabetes alone was associated with a 67% increased risk of mortality,” Kristen Knutson, professor of Northwestern University, and senior co-author on the study, said in a release posted to EurekAlert.org. “However, the mortality for participants with diabetes combined with frequent sleep problems was increased to 87%. In order (sic) words, it is particularly important for doctors treating people with diabetes to also investigate sleep disorders and consider treatments where appropriate.”
“Although we already knew that there is a strong link between poor sleep and poor health, this illustrates the problem starkly,” added Malcolm von Schantz, study lead and professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey.
Other researchers have previously noted that sufficient quality sleep is key in managing stress, protecting mental health, regulating mood and processing emotions, as well as supporting the immune system.
While the question to participants (“Do you have trouble falling asleep at night or do you wake up in the middle of the night?”) did not distinguish between insomnia and other sleep disorders, von Schantz says, “from a practical point of view, this doesn’t matter.”
“Doctors should take sleep problems as seriously as other risk factors and work with their patients on reducing and mitigating their overall risk.”