Research Blog

Sleep in the news: sleep and health

I’m beginning a semi-regular series of brief descriptions and links to articles on sleep (and sleep justice) in the news.

The Conversation logo.
The Conversation logo.

Here we have two interesting articles on The Conversation, both of which speak to the importance of sleep for physical and mental health.

Firstly, a researcher at the University of Birmingham has found that having frequent nightmares in mid-life is a good predictor of future dementia. That’s enough to give you bad dreams in itself.

Secondly, a study at Liverpool John Moores University suggests that quality sleep can protect against a range of respiratory illnesses, including Covid-19. The research found that good sleep was more important than sleep duration for boosting immunity.

All this raises a very important question: does sleep cause these benefits directly or are they colloraries of other personal and sociological factors?

For example, it’s not too far-fetched to assume that people who regularly experience good sleep are likely to already enjoy good health. They probably also eat well and have adequate housing, decent work, social support, opportunities to exercise and all the things that make for a relatively stable and satisfying life. Equally, middle-aged people who have regular nightmares may well suffer from anxiety due to money or career worries, concern over ageing and decreased health and fitness, or life-stage issues such as caring for elderly parents or approaching retirement.

It’s interesting that the article on sleep and respiratory health concludes with a list of ways to improve your sleep. They are all traditional “sleep hygiene” tips: none of them consider the role of wider sociological or environmental factors – the focus of my research.

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