Most children have bedtimes—every night they go to bed and get up around the same time, establishing a pattern. 

However, as people get older, this habit tends to wear away.

A recent Duke study conducted by researchers at Duke Health and the Duke Clinical Research Institute suggests a regular bedtime and wake-up time may be crucial for adult health. People with irregular sleep patterns tend to weigh more, have higher blood sugar, higher blood pressure and a higher projected risk of having a heart attack or stroke within ten years when compared to those who exhibited regular sleep patterns, according to the study.

“Irregular sleep patterns are fairly common," said Jessica Lunsford-Avery, assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. "For example, many individuals go to bed later and wake later on weekends than on weekdays.”

The researchers also discovered an association between sleep irregularity and depression severity, perceived stress, cardiometabolic syndrome, congestive heart failure, prevalent coronary heart disease, documented deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

As heart disease and diabetes are prevalent in the United States, Lunsford-Avery said that such costly and life threatening diseases incur a great cost on the country, motivating her to be the lead researcher on the study.

"To the extent that we can predict individuals at risk for these diseases, we may be able to prevent or delay [heart disease and diabetes'] onset,” she said.

Thus, the objective of the study was to see if irregular sleep patterns were a contributing factor to these various detrimental health issues and as a result, what could be done to prevent them. 

What makes this study unique is its focus on sleep patterns, as opposed to sleep duration. 

In fact, the study validated the Sleep Regularity Index, a new approach to assessing sleep and wake regularity, which is completely independent of sleep duration and instead linked to poorer subjective sleep quality and circadian misalignment. 

“Sleep regularity is actually a relatively straightforward treatment target," Lunsford-Avery said. 

Another interesting finding of the research is regarding racial and ethnic differences in sleep pattern variability. African Americans experienced more irregularity than participants who were white, Chinese-American or Hispanic.

Overall, the data provide strong evidence for adjusting sleep habits in order to establish a regular sleep pattern as results displayed a significant relationship between sleep irregularity and health issues.

"A recommendation for individuals hoping to develop more regular sleep patterns would be to set your alarm clock to rise at the same times, even on weekends," Lunsford-Avery said. "Setting a regular bedtime may be beneficial for your health as well.”