POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Sleep and Long-Term Health

Published Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A POSTbrief that describes the research examining the long-term health outcomes associated with disruptions to sleep and the circadian rhythm. Long-term sleep problems are associated with a range of poor health outcomes including increased risk for mental health conditions, obesity and type 2 diabetes, amongst others.

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Sleep

Sleep interacts with many biological processes in the body, affecting physical and mental health. Long-term sleep problems, such as short sleep duration and poor sleep quality, have been associated with a range of poor health outcomes, including impaired cognitive functioning and increased risk for mental health conditions, neurodegenerative diseases, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, impaired immune functioning and chronic pain conditions.

For many long-term health outcomes, evidence for whether sleep causally contributes to health outcomes is not clear or firmly established. Some of this research is limited by the lack of high-quality and large-scale data on sleep duration, quality and timing. There is also a need for large, well-controlled intervention studies which test whether improving sleep leads to better long-term health outcomes. The mechanisms through which sleep affects health are also not well understood, but may include sleep’s role in neural processing, inflammation, metabolism, gene regulation, clearance of toxins and hormonal regulation.

Future research is focused on developing and testing ways to prevent, diagnose and treat sleep problems. Other research is investigating sleep health in specific parts of the population (such as different age or minority ethnic groups) and whether treating sleep problems can improve long-term health outcomes.

The POSTbrief comprises a review of the latest research evidence on sleep and its link to a range of health conditions.

POSTbriefs are responsive policy briefings from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. This POSTbrief is based on a literature review, interviews with external stakeholders and peer review. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including: 

  • Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, University of Surrey *
  • Dr Michael Farquhar, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust *
  • Dr Hugh Selsick, The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine/University College London Hospitals *
  • Professor Franco Cappuccio, University of Warwick *
  • Dr Michelle Miller, University of Warwick *
  • Professor Jim Horne, Loughborough University *
  • Professor Niro Siriwardena, University of Lincoln *
  • Professor Graham Law, University of Lincoln *
  • Professor John Stradling, University of Oxford, OSA Partnership Group *
  • Gillian Gibbons, OSA Partnership Group *
  • Professor Paul Montgomery, University of Birmingham *
  • Dr Nicole Tang, University of Warwick *
  • Dr Simon Kyle, University of Oxford *
  • Professor Colin Espie, University of Oxford and Big Health *
  • Dr Chris Miller, Big Health and University of Oxford *
  • Dr Richard Stott, Big Health and King’s College London *
  • Dr Christopher-James Harvey, University of Oxford *
  • Dr Katharina Wulff, University of Oxford *
  • Professor Matt Jones, University of Bristol
  • Dr Pete Blair, University of Bristol
  • Professor Peter Fleming, University of Bristol
  • Dr Donna Littlewood, University of Manchester
  • Dr Rob Hunter, British Airline Pilots' Association *
  • Public Health England *
  • Health and Safety Executive *
  • Department of Health and Social Care *
  • Department for Work and Pensions *
  • Department for Education *
  • Department for Transport 
  • Richard Allday, Unite the Union
  • Marco Hafner, RAND Europe
  • Petr Nalevka, Urbandroid *
  • Jiri Richter, Urbandroid *
  • Helen Bogan, NHS Employers
  • Lisa Artis, The Sleep Council
  • Laurie Heselden, Trades Union Congress
  • Hugh Robertson, Trades Union Congress
  • Caitlin Turner, Royal Society of Public Health *
  • Sleep Apnoea Trust Association *
  • Kevin Clinton, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents *
  • Dr Josie Cheetham, Welsh Junior Doctors Committee, British Medical Association *
  • Robert Wilson, British Medical Association *
  • Kim Sunley, Royal College of Nursing *
  • Dr Tim Quinnell, British Sleep Society and Papworth Hospital Foundation NHS Trust*
  • Professor Jason Ellis, British Sleep Society Research Committee and Northumbria University *
  • British Lung Foundation
  • Caroline Heron, AQNB Productions

 *denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

 

POSTbriefs POST-PB-0029

Authors: Sarah Bunn; Lev Tankelevitch

Topics: Diseases, Health education and preventive medicine, Medicine, Obesity, Research and innovation, Science

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.