Study Links Short Sleep Duration with Bone Loss

Researchers find another reason why sleep is so important to your health. Read their alarming findings here.

By Andrea Pisani Babich
Senior woman having sleep disorder, lying in bed

Add improved bone health to the list of reasons to prioritize sleep every night. A recent study shows a link between an increased risk of osteoporosis and insufficient sleep in postmenopausal women.

Published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, the new study showed that postmenopausal women who regularly slept five or fewer hours per night had a lower bone density and faced a greater risk of developing osteoporosis than women who slept at least seven hours every night.

This research, co-authored by Heather M. Ochs-Balcom, associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the University of Buffalo, builds on an earlier study by the same authors showing that women who had short sleep were more likely to suffer a bone fracture. Researchers wondered if sleep loss led to lower bone density or if people who are awake more simply have more opportunities to injure themselves.

Does Short Sleep Affect Your Bone Health?

The new study found that compared to women who slept at least seven hours, women who regularly had short sleep duration (less than five hours per night) faced

  • 94% increased risk of osteoporosis of the whole body
  • 22% higher risk of low bone mass of the hip
  • 63% increased risk of osteoporosis of the hip
  • 28% higher risk of osteoporosis of the spine

Ochs-Balcom acknowledges that the study was not intended to identify the reasons why inadequate sleep leads to lower bone mineral density and a greater risk for osteoporosis. But she explains that short sleep duration appears to leave less time for bones to complete the remodeling process that keeps them healthy.

What Is Osteoporosis?

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, the bone weakening disease occurs when the process of bone remodeling does not occur properly. During remodeling, bone cells begin to dissolve bone matrix (resorption) and new bone cells deposit osteoid (formation). Osteoporosis occurs when too much bone matrix is lost, too little osteoid is deposited to replace it, or both.

Scientists believe this process is completed while we sleep.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that 50% of women over 50 will break a bone due to the weakening effects of osteoporosis. Women face a greater risk of developing osteoporosis after menopause because of the sharp decline in levels of estrogen, which includes protecting bones among its many functions. But that doesn’t mean that all women are destined to develop osteoporosis.

Losing bone mass is a natural result of aging, but there are preventative steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of bone fractures due to osteoporosis. Not smoking and increasing weight bearing exercise are two lifestyle modifications that women can make to protect themselves from bone loss and osteoporosis.

Now there is even more evidence to suggest getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep is another inexpensive preventative measure that has no adverse side effects and requires no prescription.

Importance of Sleep

Ochs-Balcom’s research follows recent studies that have shown links between short sleep and

The inescapable conclusion to recent sleep research is that sleep impacts every aspect of our physical and mental health. Adequate sleep is not a luxury we can live without but is as vital to our existence as eating and drinking.

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