As an iPhone user with both a Whoop and Fitbit hooked up to my Health app, a curious thing happened on the eve of July 4 earlier this summer. My wind down feature in the Health App asked if I would like to set a later wake up time since July 4 was a holiday.
I politely declined, and kept my wake up time set for 6:55 a.m. Not because I like waking up early on holiday mornings, but because my dog doesn’t recognize sleeping in as more important than his morning mealtime. So we woke up at 6:55 and went for a walk before he ate.
But in the process of this simple procedure, I realized that I was helping to maintain my body’s internal clock by sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. And it turns out, that’s more important than I thought.
Why is having a consistent sleep schedule so important?
A 2009 study from Taiwan suggested that maintaining an inconsistent sleep schedule among students resulted in a decrease in average sleep time and quality per day. And according to Jessica Lunsford-Avery, PhD, assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, “The more irregular the sleep pattern, the higher the risk for obesity, hypertension, and elevated blood sugar, and the higher the projected risk of developing heart disease over the next decade.”
“Keeping bed and wake times as consistent as possible may have benefits for health,” she added.
In 2018, Lunsford-Avery published her findings in an article on Nature.com that evaluated the validity of a new metric, the Sleep Regularity Index, among older adults. Study participants wore devices meant to track sleep schedules down to the minute so researchers could evaluate the impact of sleep regularity, duration, and preferred sleep timing. What they found was an association between sleep irregularity and chronic health problems. In addition to chronic health problems, greater sleep irregularity was associated with increased perceived stress and depression.
For many of us, getting to bed and waking at the same time can be difficult. Between work, family and social obligations, it might seem impossible. But if a regular sleep pattern is likely to impact your overall health, it’s worth looking into.
According to Lunsford-Avery, it’s pretty simple. “Set your alarm clock to rise at the same time each day, even on weekends. Set a regular bedtime and stick to it as best you can,” she said.
As we head into Labor Day weekend, a traditional three-day weekend with no work on Monday, consider the importance of sticking to your regular sleep schedule. And if you need help, my dog’s morning hunger can help you stick to that schedule.