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Researchers Link Poor Sleep to Increased Falls

 Have you ever found it difficult to keep your balance after a poor night’s sleep? Have you ever experienced lots of near falls after a night of twisting and turning? Well, there’s new research out there that could explain this phenomenon!

Researchers at the School of Engineering, in collaboration with Warwick Medical school, conducted a study demonstrating the relationship between poor, disrupted sleep and reduced posture and balance. They believe that a night of restless sleep affects our vision, a sense that plays a vital role in balance. Lead author Dr. Leandro Pecchia claims that it is something we all experience from time to time. He says: “We all have direct experience of this. When we do not sleep well, we may feel a little dizzy and our capability to control our posture and balance is somehow diminished.” However, he continues to explain that aging already reduces these abilities, meaning poor sleep brings our balancing capabilities at these ages to the point of non-existence, increasing our risk of falls. 


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The study 

The study examined 20 healthy adults, between the ages of 28-34, over two days logging how much each adult slept and how this affected their balance. To monitor their sleep patterns, the participants wore sensors that kept track of their heart rate and balance while quiet standing through foot ‘ center of pressure’ (COP) displacement, while at home, and sleep diaries, actigraphy and ‘heart rate variability’ (HRV)  measures were used to asses sleep quality variations. 

The foot center of pressure is the point at which the pressure of the body over the soles of the feet would be if concentrated in one spot. If there are deviations this means reduced balance. Actigraphy is a method of monitoring human rest-activity cycles and heart rate variability is the phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats. All these measures taken into account, the researches found that reduced quality and quantity of sleep (shorter sleep time, more disturbances, increased activity and decreased HRV), led to significant changes in balance. Participants who did not undergo a decrease in sleep quantity and quality did not experience a reduction in balance abilities.

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What does this mean?

The results of the study showed that reduced quality of sleep over consecutive days may affect balance. This means that those who sleep poorly are prone to more falls, especially the elderly. These results could also help us understand in-hospital falls. Dr. Leandro Pecchia explains, “hospitalized older patients find themselves in a frail condition, sleeping in an unfamiliar environment, with unusual nocturnal light and noises from other patients and nurses, and perhaps being administered more than one drug. Waking up to go to the toilet can be more challenging than we can imagine.” Placing these elderly adults in an unfamiliar setting which is not cohesive to sleep and then expecting them to get around on their own is not only wrong but also dangerous. He goes on to say that a solution to this would be to learn to use technology capable of early detection in sleep changes, thereby increasing the ability to prevent or avoid falls that may occur the next day. 

Conclusion

We all know the importance of getting a good night’s sleep, however, now we know that inadequate sleep can really be dangerous. Therefore, it's important that you get a good night’s sleep and you can learn how to do just that with this little secret. If your problem lies in disturbed sleep, you may want to check out this infographic discussing what might be disturbing your sleep and solutions to fix it! 

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