An irregular sleep schedule puts you 'at greater risk' of obesity, diabetes, bad cholesterol and high blood pressure

New research has revealed those with irregular sleep patterns have an increased risk of health problems [Photo: Getty]

Night owls and shift workers take note as people who sleep irregular hours are at a greater risk of obesitydiabetes, "bad" cholesterol and high blood pressure, a new study has warned.

Those putting in the hours on a night shift, the regularly jet lagged and the elderly, who get fewer hours shut-eye, are most at risk of metabolic disorders caused by their fluctuating sleep patterns, the findings revealed.

The reason? Researchers say that sleeping at different times of the day and night on a regular basis causes our natural body clock to become misaligned.

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The study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, found those with greater variations in their bedtimes and in the hours they slept had a higher prevalence of metabolic problems, such as lower levels of "good" cholesterol, higher waist circumference and blood pressure.

For every hour of variability in lights out and time spent snoozing, a person may have up to a 27 per cent greater chance of experiencing a metabolic abnormality.

The study involved following the sleep patterns of 2,003 men and women aged 45 to 84, for a median of six years taking part in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).

Participants wore actigraph watches to track their sleep schedules for seven consecutive days, kept sleep diaries and answered questionnaires on their bedtime habits and other lifestyle and health factors.

The results found that those with greater variations in their bedtimes and in the hours they slept had a higher prevalence of metabolic problems, and this was the case even after making allowances for average sleep duration.

Commenting on the findings Dr Tianyi Huang, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in the US, said: "Modern environment and lifestyle, such as increased light exposure and activities during night and widespread use of electronic media and mobile devices, not only deprive humans of sufficient sleep, but also considerably disturb the regularity of sleep behaviours.

"Adequate amount of sleep, which is essential for global rejuvenation of the human body, plays a central role in normal functioning of metabolism and energy homeostasis.

"As a result, reduced quantity of sleep has been associated with higher risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes in numerous previous studies.”

Sticking to a regular sleep pattern can be beneficial for health [Photo: Getty]

While a link between reduced sleep quantity and various health problems has previously been explored, researchers were yet to study the impact of irregular sleep, high day-to-day variability in sleep duration and timing.

"Emerging evidence has linked irregular sleep duration and timing, independent of sleep duration, with higher prevalence of unfavourable metabolic factors such as obesity, hypertension and dyslipidemia,” Dr Huang continues.

"Our research shows that, even after considering the amount of sleep a person gets and other lifestyle factors, every one-hour night-to-night difference in the time to bed or the duration of a night's sleep multiplies the adverse metabolic effect."

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Study authors believe the results suggest that sticking to roughly the same bedtime and skipping the leisurely lie-ins could have beneficial metabolic effects on our future health.

"Our findings have important clinical and public health implications,” Dr Huang said.

He pointed out that though the majority of the population don’t experience the same variations in sleep patterns as night shift workers and those who suffer from frequent jet lag, many of us still suffer from sleep disruption.

"In our sample of older individuals, more than half showed average night-to-night variability in sleep duration of more than 60 minutes; the prevalence may be even higher among younger populations due to more social demands from work or study.

"Thus, there is substantial opportunity to improve sleep regularity, with potential metabolic benefits for millions of individuals."

In other words, late-night Netflix binges and weekend lie-ins are out.

It isn’t the first time researchers have uncovered a potential link between sleeping irregular hours and potential health problems.

Earlier this year scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder, revealed that those who get less than seven hours sleep a night are at a higher risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack.

Those who lay awake counting sheep have lower blood levels of microRNAs, small molecules that suppress gene expression of certain proteins in cells, which play a major role in vascular health.

Their job is to prevent the formation of clots which can cut off the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain and heart.

The findings, published in Experimental Physiology, could shed light on the link between shift workers and a host of serious illnesses.

The UK is one of the most sleep-deprived nations in the world with approximately four out of 10 people saying they don’t get enough kip.

According to the NHS, one in three Britons suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed.

On average the NHS said adults need seven to nine hours while children need nine to 13 hours.