Sleep: Another benefit of regular sleep

A large observational study has found that irregular sleep-wake patterns are associated with a higher risk of overall mortality, and also mortality from cancers and cardiovascular disease.
  1. Tianyi Huang  Is a corresponding author
  1. Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, United States
  2. Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School, United States

Benjamin Franklin’s famous quotation – “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” – underscores the importance of sleep-wake patterns to our health and well-being. Of all the phenomena that are influenced by the 24 hour light-dark cycle, the sleep-wake cycle is the best known, but many other biological processes central to health are also influenced. However, empirical evidence about the impact that disruptions to sleep-wake patterns have on human health remains sparse and is mostly limited to studies on shift workers, despite an increase in other forms of disruption (notably higher levels of artificial light at night and increased use of mobile media in bed).

In recent years, an increasing number of studies have looked at the impact of sleep regularity (and irregularity) on aspects of health besides sleep quantity and quality, often made possible by the availability of wearable technology that is able to monitor rest-activity cycles in large numbers of people. Studies have found evidence that sleep irregularity is associated with a higher incidence of obesity (Patel et al., 2014), depression (Fang et al., 2021), cardiovascular disease (Huang et al., 2020) and other chronic disease outcomes.

Now, in eLife, Matthew Pase, Andree-Ann Baril and colleagues – including Lachlan Cribb, Ramon Sha and Stephanie Yiallourou, all of Monash University, as joint first authors – go one step further by linking sleep regularity with all-cause and cause-specific mortality in a large UK population (Cribb et al., 2023). Between 2013 and 2015, a total of more than 106,000 participants in the UK wore a watch-like device called an accelerometer over seven consecutive days. Based on the signals from this device it was possible to tell when the participants were asleep, sedentary, or active. Cribb et al. then derived a novel metric called the Sleep Regularity Index (SRI) to quantify day-to-day consistency in sleep-wake schedules. This metric is an estimate of how likely it is that a person is in the same state (that is, either awake or asleep) at any two time points 24 hours apart, with higher SRI values indicating higher sleep regularity. The researchers also noted how many of the participants subsequently died (via data from the UK national death register).

Over a median follow-up of 7.1 years, some 3,010 participants died, with 1,701 of these deaths being due to cancers and 616 being due to cardiovascular disease. Compared with those who had a medium SRI value, the top 5% (that is, the most regular sleepers) had 10% lower all-cause mortality, and the bottom 5% (that is, the most irregular sleepers) had 53% higher mortality. The association appeared nonlinear, with stronger associations observed for the increased mortality with more irregular sleep. Similar nonlinear patterns were observed when Cribb et al. examined cancer mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality separately.

The work by Cribb et al. is consistent with recent studies on sleep regularity and mortality from the US and Japan, although these findings are based on a smaller sample size (Chung et al., 2023a) or on self-reported sleep regularity (Omichi et al., 2022). Other studies found that sleep regularity was a stronger predictor for mortality than sleep duration or sleep apnea (Chung et al., 2023b; Windred et al., 2023). Interestingly, a genome-wide association study for sleep traits (Jones et al., 2019) reported a heritability estimate of 2.8% for sleep regularity, compared with 19.0% for sleep duration and 22.3% for fragmented sleep: this suggests that it may be easier to modify sleep regularity via interventions than it would be to modify other sleep traits because sleep regularity is less genetically determined.

Promoting sleep regularity is not a new idea in the area of ‘sleep hygiene’, and encouraging regular sleep schedules is also an essential component in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (Sletten et al., 2023). From the behavioral perspective, promoting sleep regularity may also enhance the time-of-day effect of other behaviors, such as time-restricted eating and exercise. However, promoting sleep regularity for broader health promotion and disease prevention has not been tested in intervention studies and requires additional evidence from future investigations.

In summary, the study by Cribb et al. adds to the emerging evidence for the potential benefits of sleep regularity on chronic disease risk and mortality. The findings, in conjunction with prior evidence, provide a strong foundation to answer the following question: would public health interventions to improve sleep regularity causally lead to reductions in chronic disease and premature deaths at the population level?


Article and author information

Author details

  1. Tianyi Huang

    Tianyi Huang is in the Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, United States, and the Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, United States

    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-8420-9167

Publication history

  1. Version of Record published: December 1, 2023 (version 1)


© 2023, Huang

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


  • 509
    Page views
  • 51
  • 0

Article citation count generated by polling the highest count across the following sources: Crossref, PubMed Central, Scopus.

Download links

A two-part list of links to download the article, or parts of the article, in various formats.

Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)

Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)

Cite this article (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)

  1. Tianyi Huang
Sleep: Another benefit of regular sleep
eLife 12:e94131.
  1. Further reading

Further reading

    1. Epidemiology and Global Health
    David Robert Grimes
    Research Advance Updated

    In biomedical science, it is a reality that many published results do not withstand deeper investigation, and there is growing concern over a replicability crisis in science. Recently, Ellipse of Insignificance (EOI) analysis was introduced as a tool to allow researchers to gauge the robustness of reported results in dichotomous outcome design trials, giving precise deterministic values for the degree of miscoding between events and non-events tolerable simultaneously in both control and experimental arms (Grimes, 2022). While this is useful for situations where potential miscoding might transpire, it does not account for situations where apparently significant findings might result from accidental or deliberate data redaction in either the control or experimental arms of an experiment, or from missing data or systematic redaction. To address these scenarios, we introduce Region of Attainable Redaction (ROAR), a tool that extends EOI analysis to account for situations of potential data redaction. This produces a bounded cubic curve rather than an ellipse, and we outline how this can be used to identify potential redaction through an approach analogous to EOI. Applications are illustrated, and source code, including a web-based implementation that performs EOI and ROAR analysis in tandem for dichotomous outcome trials is provided.

    1. Epidemiology and Global Health
    Qixin He, John K Chaillet, Frédéric Labbé
    Research Article

    The establishment and spread of antimalarial drug resistance vary drastically across different biogeographic regions. Though most infections occur in sub-Saharan Africa, resistant strains often emerge in low-transmission regions. Existing models on resistance evolution lack consensus on the relationship between transmission intensity and drug resistance, possibly due to overlooking the feedback between antigenic diversity, host immunity, and selection for resistance. To address this, we developed a novel compartmental model that tracks sensitive and resistant parasite strains, as well as the host dynamics of generalized and antigen-specific immunity. Our results show a negative correlation between parasite prevalence and resistance frequency, regardless of resistance cost or efficacy. Validation using chloroquine-resistant marker data supports this trend. Post discontinuation of drugs, resistance remains high in low-diversity, low-transmission regions, while it steadily decreases in high-diversity, high-transmission regions. Our study underscores the critical role of malaria strain diversity in the biogeographic patterns of resistance evolution.