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The Link between Sleep Patterns and Geography

A good night’s sleep is vital for overall health, yet many people don’t get anywhere near enough sleep. According to a 2002 National Sleep Foundation survey of American adults, 74% have difficulty sleeping a few nights a week and 39% get less than seven hours sleep a night. In addition, the survey found that one in three people are so sleepy during the day that they struggle to function properly. However, prolonged periods of poor sleep can lead to a number of health issues; the most obvious of which include stress and irritability, but there has also been research that suggests diabetes and aging may be linked to a lack of sleep.

Fairly thorough research has been carried out into sleeping problems and what causes them, but, until recently, the impact of geography hadn’t really been considered. A recent study by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has started to change all that.

According to Science Daily, the study looked at sleep patterns across the United States and has discovered that those from the southern states, particularly from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and West Virginia, are more likely to suffer from sleep disturbance at night and problems with fatigue during the day, than those in other parts of the country. In comparison, those on the West Coast reported the fewest problems with sleeping. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

The Pennsylvania study was based on data from a telephone survey of 157,319 randomly chosen people from 36 states across the US, which was initially conducted by the Centers of Disease Prevention in 2006. The study looked at various risk factors related to health, but for the purpose of this research, the data used looked primarily at sleeping habits. Participants were asked questions about their sleeping habits, such as how many nights out of 14 they had problems getting to sleep and how many days they had problems staying awake. They were also asked about other factors that could affect their sleep, such as alcohol consumption, smoking habits and general health issues.

Researchers are not entirely sure why geography should have an impact on sleeping habits. They took potentially influential factors, such as weather, the amount of daylight and health, into consideration, but those in southern states were still discovered to be adversely affected with sleep problems. The lead researcher, Michael A Grandner, suggests that stress could be the answer, although that is obviously very hard to quantify. Clearly much more research needs to be done to try and pinpoint exactly what the reasons are.

With that in mind, Science Daily cites Grandner as saying: “We should begin to use this data to track patterns of poor sleep and try to understand why these patterns occur. Sleep is such an important part of overall health, we need to do everything we can to help give a good night’s sleep to those in the highest-risk regions.”

In the meantime, the researchers have suggested that public health information with regard to sleeping should be targeted towards the above-mentioned southern states. This will hopefully help control any health issues that could be exacerbated by sleep disturbance.