Why regularity in sleep is important

“Staying regular” is not something we immediately associate with sleep. But its importance is great.

A recent study undertaken by MICCN’s Dr Andrew Phillips and funded by the National Institutes of Health – an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and one of the world's foremost medical research centres – monitored the sleep patterns of 60 undergraduate students, and the effect that sleep regularity had on their grades. It found that the students with less regular sleep patterns produced worse grades.

“Sleep regularity hasn’t been carefully quantified to date, so we developed a new metric for its assessment,” Dr Phillips said. “In our study, student grades were predicted by sleep regularity, as opposed to sleep duration, suggesting sleep regularity is independently important. It was the lack of regularity that resulted in the poorer outcome.”

Interestingly, it was also found that if the regularity of someone’s sleep patterns is known for the past 2-7 days, then a daily mood score can be predicted.

“We used predictive modelling – physiological models – to understand an individual’s health and behaviour. This helped us determine not only the link between irregular sleep patterns and other outcomes, but also the individual vulnerabilities that can lead to unhealthy sleep patterns,” Dr Phillips explained.

The team is now looking at interventions to improve sleep regularity; the results of which could have a huge impact on the community and the health industry.

“We are hoping that regularity will become a critical marker for measuring sleep and circadian health, as well as tracking improvements,” Dr Phillips said. “This research could be transferrable to helping people with mood and sleep disorders, such as Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder, in that they could receive more accurate diagnoses and more individualised sleep health solutions.”

For more information on his research, contact Dr Andrew Phillips on t: 03 9905 3901, e: Andrew.Phillips@monash.edu.

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