Washington: People who suffer from sleep disturbance three nights per week or more are at a major risk for obesity, diabetes and coronary artery disease, say researchers.

A new research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, analyzing the data of over 130,000 people, also indicates that general sleep disturbance (difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or sleeping too much) may play a role in the development of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.

The researchers examined associations between sleep disturbances and other health conditions, focusing on perceived sleep quality, rather than just sleep duration.

Patients with sleep disturbances at least three nights per week on average were 35 percent more likely to be obese, 54 percent more likely to have diabetes, 98 percent more likely to have coronary artery disease, 80 percent more likely to have had a heart attack, and 102 percent more likely to have had a stroke.

"Previous studies have demonstrated that those who get less sleep are more likely to also be obese, have diabetes or cardiovascular disease, and are more likely to die sooner, but this new analysis has revealed that other sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or even too much sleep, are also associated with cardiovascular and metabolic health issues," Michael A Grandner, PhD, research associate at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at Penn and lead author of the study, was quoted as saying.

Grandner and colleagues analyzed data of 138,201 people from the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The BRFSS is an annual, state-based, random digit-dialed telephone interview survey of adults aged 18 years and older from all over the US.

"This study is one of the largest ever to link sleep problems with important cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. It joins other studies that show that sleep is an important part of health, just like diet and physical activity," said Philip R Gehrman, PhD, CBSM, assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry, clinical director of the Penn Medicine Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, and senior study author.

"We all know what it feels like to not sleep well sometimes. And now we can clearly show that those who have chronic sleep problems are also much more likely to have chronic health problems as well. As a society, we need to make healthy sleep a priority," he said.

The researchers say that future studies are needed to show whether sleep problems actually predict the new onset of cardiovascular and metabolic disease, and whether treatment of sleep problems improves long term health and longevity.

The study is published online ahead of print in the Journal of Sleep Research.