Can climate change alter your sleep patterns? UCR professor thinks so

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On May 26, 2017, UCR Professor Sara C. Mednick’s co-authored study on climate change and effects that it might have on human sleep patterns was published by the scientific journal Science Advances. The study involved work from Professor Nick Obradovich of Harvard University and Professors James Fowler and Robyn Migliorini of UC San Diego.

The study points out the correlation between reports of insufficient sleep and higher nighttime temperatures. The data collected was from surveys performed from 2002 to 2011, in which 765,000 U.S. respondents reported nights during which they had insufficient sleep. With this data, the study observed that these reports occurred much more often during the summer time, and were most prevalent among elderly people and low-income populations.

The study also took into account other factors, such as noise pollution and air conditioning, that could also influence regular sleep patterns. After a full analysis of the data, they came to the conclusion that nighttime temperature anomalies had a notable impact on sleep patterns; on these nights, temperatures were higher than normal. Climate change could lead to an increase in these anomalies, and as a result, more sleepless nights.

Climate change has been a controversial topic as of late, particularly due to President Donald J. Trump’s doubts on the subject as well as the U.S.’s recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Mednick however does not believe that such a controversy should exist. She stated that, “In the case of climate change, the evidence is strong and has been repeatedly replicated. Therefore, I see no controversy.”

However, climate change might not be the only problem leading to these abnormal sleep patterns. According to Mednick, “Sleep is vulnerable to many factors including aging and poor health. Another reason that climate change showed such a strong impact on these populations is because their sleep was already impaired.” This means that sacrificing sleep to stay up all night writing an essay might have more health risks than one might think. Our sleep, as mentioned by Mednick at a 2013 TEDx event, has a tremendous impact on not just our performance throughout the day, but our long-term health. Individuals who lacked the proper nightly rest showed signs of prediabetes as well as disruptions in metabolism and insulin regulation.

Professor Mednick is an associate professor of psychology at UCR and has conducted numerous studies on the necessity of sleep and sleep patterns. She also authored a book on the subject titled “Take a Nap! Change your Life (Workman),” published in 2006. Mednick’s work can be found on her website saramednick.com.

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