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Prolonged sleep disturbance may impact bone formation

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Adults in the UK aren’t getting enough sleep, and it could be contributing to the development of osteoporosis.

New research has found that insufficient sleep — a common problem that is already linked to chronic disease risk — may also be a risk factor for bone loss.

The study, presented at the recent annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, evaluated the health consequences of sleep restriction combined with circadian disruption. Lead investigator Dr Christine Swanson, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado, defined circadian disruption as “a mismatch between your internal body clock and the environment caused by living on a shorter or longer day than 24 hours.”

The researchers found that healthy men had reduced levels of a marker of bone formation in their blood after three weeks of cumulative sleep restriction and circadian disruption, similar to that seen in jet lag or shift work, while a biological marker of bone resorption, or breakdown, was unchanged.

“This altered bone balance creates a potential bone loss window that could lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures,” Dr Swanson explained.

The decline in the bone formation marker was greater for the younger men in the study than the older men: a 27% decrease versus 18%. This suggests that sleep disruption may be most detrimental to bone metabolism earlier in life, when bone growth and accrual are crucial for long-term skeletal health, Dr Swanson said.

Last year, a survey by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) showed that the UK public is under-sleeping by an average of almost an hour every night — amounting to losing an entire night’s sleep over the course of a week.

“Efforts to combat this shortfall could be as critical to optimising our health and wellbeing as maintaining an active lifestyle or having a healthy diet,” commented RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer.