Diminished Sleep and the Presence of Risky Behavior: What Predicts General Health?

April 5, 2021   /  

Student Name: Alex Melchert
Major(s): Psychology
Advisor: Dr. Colvin, Second Reader: Dr. Wilhelms

Recently, the field of sleep research has grown. However, questions remain regarding how sleep can be used to predict and improve general health. The present study utilizes a large, nationwide database from the CDC to investigate if risk-taking behaviors or income act as a mediator or moderator, respectively. Using a sequence of regressions, behavioral risk factors were found to significantly mediate the relationship between sleep and general health. Less-than-recommended amounts of sleep were more likely to be associated with a greater number of risk-taking behaviors, which lead to worse general health, while recommended amounts of sleep were more likely to be associated with fewer risk-taking behaviors and better general health. This may indicate that interventions designed to limit risk or improve health should focus on sleep. Furthermore, when family income was then entered into the regression, it helped to predict a large amount of the variance in general health. This may indicate that sleep is more important for low-income families for maintaining health.

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Alex will be online to field comments on April 16: Noon-2 pm EDT (PST 9am-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening).

19 thoughts on “Diminished Sleep and the Presence of Risky Behavior: What Predicts General Health?”

  1. Congratulations on carrying out this large dataset analyses Alex! It was a pleasure to work with you and great to see you share your work today.

    1. Thank you Dr. Colvin! I’ve really appreciated having you as my advisor on this project. You’ve helped me to recognize the impact that this project will have on my future and my field.

  2. Interesting work, Alex! I’m curious about the relationship between sleep, health, and SES. It looks like those with high SES get more hours of sleep which contributes to better health outcomes. I don’t know if you looked at this, but I’m wondering if you think health status could be a factor in sleep behavior (i.e., those with poor health get less sleep) and might this be explained by SES (e.g., via access to healthcare) too?

    1. Great question, it seems likely to me! I do think that one of the next steps would be to examine if health status can affect sleep behavior, as some preliminary research has indicated that it may, resulting in a cycle of poor health and poor sleep. Since family income was a significant moderator of the relationship between sleep and health in my research, I would think that SES would moderate the relationship between health and sleep.

      The BRFSS includes many questions on access to healthcare, so this question could easily be broached using the same dataset.

  3. Thanks for sharing your work on such an important topic Alex! I’ll follow up a little on Dr Abraham as well – I think the interaction with SES is interesting and also wonder if that, alone, correlates with risk-taking behavior. I also wonder about the direction of sleep and risk taking – it seems like it can almost be a feed-forward cycle.

    1. That is an interesting line of thought! In my reading, some people have suggested that risk-taking goes down as familial education goes up. In this sense, I would think that SES could definitely correlated with risk-taking behavior.

      I would also be interested to see if engaging in more risk-taking behaviors drive sleep loss. If an adolescent wanted to engage in risky behaviors, it seems possible to me that they may prefer to do so in the evening, when more of their peers are awake and more of their authority figures are asleep.

  4. Hello! What constitutes sleep loss? How much of the time do you sleep enough, and how often do you engage in risky business? Will I ever see your face on video?

    1. Hello sis! For this project, sleep loss is considered getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night, but other groups have defined it as feeling sleepy during the day or not getting the amount of sleep that one prefers. Over the last few years, I’ve placed more importance on feeling rested, as that is when I do my best work. I also think it’s had something to do with my decision to engage in less risky behaviors, leading to better health outcomes (as this study indicates that it may for others as well). I don’t have a video interface for this symposium, but you have my number! I do appreciate video calls.

  5. Fascinating project Alex! You mentioned that sleep may be more important for low-income communities, and I was wondering if you could expand on that here. Is it just because they have a lower baseline of income to risk by not sleeping? Or is there something more to it?

    1. Fantastic questions Matthew. What I discovered here is that less sleep is more likely to be associated with poor health for low-income families than for high-income families. I would speculate that we all have stressors impacting our lives, but that it is possible that low-income families can accept fewer extra stressors (such as sleep loss) before their health is compromised.

  6. Dear Alex, Congratulations on this very interesting study! Do you think there are ways we might communicate this information about sleep to college students, in order to help support their choices to rest when they need to? I often end calls by reminding students that sleep is the best study aid, but this additional information about decision-making is really interesting as well, and I agree with Professor Stavnezer that there could be a feed-forward cycle of less sleep, difficulty making good decisions, even less sleep, etc. I really appreciate your study and what you have shared with us.

    Wishing you all the best for the future!

    1. That is an excellent thought as to how these results might be applicable in our community. In my discussion, I mention that even if these results were available to all students, they may not have an impact on behavior unless we are consciously aware of the personal consequences of sleep loss. This may be further challenging when considering the fact that sleep loss can impair our ability to detect our own deficits.

      I think that change can come from a lot of angles. Perhaps a flier could be given out from the wellness center or first-year seminar. This flier could include information on the correlates of sleep loss. If it includes hard science in a readable format (as many from the COW do), students may be more interested in the power of sleep.

  7. Hey Alex! This project is so relevant and important! I love how you took different populations into account. Thanks for sharing your findings in such an accessible way. Also, congrats on grad school, wishing you the best!!

  8. Do you think that many of us are willing to give up sleep in order to have time for risky behaviours?

    1. Hello Pop! I know that some people are more willing to give up sleep than others. Some groups have been researching what leads some people to be able to go without a night’s rest and still function, while others lose a couple of hours and have troubles throughout their days. So far, it looks like there are some (epi)genetic differences at play. I think that understanding where we fit along this spectrum can help us to make fewer risky decisions.

  9. There has been a longtime negative correlation for longer shift work (10-12 hr) and poor (risky) decisions. Studies have reported sleepiness on the job, and disturbed sleep patterns resulting in bad decisions, and heavier employee turnover. Other issues include depression, fatigue, insomnia, bad health, and the list continues. Your IS supports these studies, yet as a society we continue with longer shift work hours. Can you hesitate to suggest the next step we can take to make the evidence of these reports reduce the negative results of long shiftwork .

    1. Hello Mom! It’s a tricky problem. On the one hand, I don’t think that shift work is for everyone, and it might be for no one. On the other hand, people will continue to work throughout the night/extended hours in our capitalist society. Mitigating the effects of sleep loss might be encouraged through this research. Although it seems contradictive, if employers provide the use of nap pods or send sleepy workers home, they will likely see an increase in productivity and a decrease in turnover!

Comments are closed.