Sleep Health Research: What 3 Recent Studies Say

Sleep health research
Sleep health research

My blog’s primary focus is on the benefits of plant-based eating. But today, sleep health research takes center stage.

Why?

Because I recognize the importance of covering a variety of lifestyle choices. While exercise and diet get the lion’s share of my attention, sleep is just as crucial to our health and well-being.

Over the past few months, a few sleep health research studies caught my eye. I found the first of them in the Sleep journal’s May 2021 issue.

At Australia’s Central Queensland University, a team of researchers led by Stephen A. Booth delved into how sleep duration affects mood in teens.

They recruited 34 adolescents to live in a sleep lab for ten days and nine nights. For the first two nights, all the participants could sleep for 10 hours to establish a mood “baseline.”

But for the next five nights, they were assigned to one of three groups and allowed 5, 7.5, or 10 hours of sleep.

Chronic loss of sleep can trigger severe depression.

During the teens’ waking hours, the researchers checked their moods every three hours. And what they discovered wasn’t surprising!

Those getting only 5 hours of sleep were significantly more:

  • depressed
  • angry
  • confused

and less happy or energetic.

After five consecutive nights of little sleep, the participants slept 10 hours on the final two nights of their laboratory stay.

Unfortunately, those long nights of sleep weren’t enough to let the 5-hour group recover from their increased depression, anger, and confusion.

Sleep Health Research Looks at Sleep-Deprived Adults

According to research led by the University of South Florida’s Soomi Lee, adults short on sleep don’t fare much better than teens.

Their study, published in the July 5, 2021 Annals of Behavioral Medicine, examined how sleep loss affects well-being and physical symptoms.

Learning to practice mindfulness often leads to healthier sleep habits.

The 1,958 enrollees recorded journal data for eight days, including how many hours of sleep they got each night. The nights they managed less than six hours counted as “sleep loss” nights.

The results revealed that only one night of sleep loss “significantly worsened” the participants’ feelings of well-being.

As their sense of well-being worsened with each consecutive lost day of sleep, the negative effects peaked at day three. However, the negative physical symptoms didn’t peak until they’d experienced six days of chronic sleep loss.

Lee noted that these findings confirmed her past research on similar adverse effects of sleep loss, in which the participants reported:

  • more perceived stress
  • more ruminative thoughts
  • lower mindful attention

So skimping on sleep leaves us moody and less energetic. But don’t we all know this?

Many of us would sleep more if we could, but we don’t have the practices or good habits to help us do that!

Luckily, another study published this past week offers a possible method for improving our sleep.

Sleep Health Research and Mindfulness Training

Stanford University’s Christina Chick and a group of researchers ran an extensive trial published in the July 6, 2021 Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Their goal was to learn if mindfulness training could help children aged 8 to 11 sleep better.

Learning to practice mindfulness often leads to healthier sleep habits.

The Stanford sleep health research team separated their 115 recruits into two groups. Twice a week for two years, they taught one group paced breathing and other mindfulness techniques.

The other group continued their standard physical education classes.

The results were stunning. The physical education group’s average nightly sleep duration decreased by 64 minutes over the two years. However, their time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep was unchanged.

And the children in the mindfulness group?

At the end of two years, they were sleeping an incredible 74 minutes longer on average.  And their sack time included an additional 24 minutes of REM sleep!

The Stanford research lines up with an earlier systematic review published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 2019.

Heather L. Rusch and a team from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, conducted a sleep health research review to determine the connection between mindfulness meditation and sleep quality.

They analyzed 18 trials with a total of 1,654 participants.  Their findings weren’t as conclusive as Stanford’s, yet they still observed that “These preliminary findings suggest that mindfulness meditation may be effective in treating some aspects of sleep disturbance.”

For any child, teen, or adult struggling with sleep disturbances, researching mindfulness techniques or even taking a mindfulness class could prove well worth the effort!

Achieving true wellbeing depends on many factors, including eating plant-based foods, staying physically active, practicing mindfulness, and getting adequate sleep.

Each one of them acts as a building block in supporting the others – and together, they create a healthy lifestyle!

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