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.Jump to full report >>
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.
*denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.
Authors: Sarah Bunn; Lev Tankelevitch
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.