Of all the reasons to get a good night’s sleep, protecting your heart might not be top of mind.
But maybe it should be. Sleep duration has decreased 1.5 to 2 hours per night per person in the last 50 years. But several recent studies show links between shortened sleep duration, defined as less than six hours of sleep, and increased risk of heart disease.
A 2011 European Heart Journal review of 15 medical studies involving almost 475,000 people found that short sleepers had a 48% increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease (CHD) in a seven to 25-year follow-up period (depending on the study) and a 15% greater risk of developing or dying from stroke during this same time. Interestingly, long sleepers — those who averaged nine or more hours a night also showed a 38% increased risk of developing or dying from CHD and a 65% increased risk of stroke.
Why does bad sleep increase heart disease risk?
Unfortunately, researchers are unsure as to exactly why too little sleep is bad for your heart health, although they do have some theories. Ongoing sleep deprivation has not only been associated with high blood pressure (hypertension), a known risk factor for heart disease, it’s also been linked with higher levels of chemicals linked to inflammation. Although it hasn’t been proven that inflammation causes heart disease, higher levels of inflammation are common in people living with the condition.
How do sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea affect my heart?
One way that clinicians know a link exists between sleep and heart conditions is because people with sleep apnea are more likely to experience heart disease. When someone has sleep apnea their breathing pauses for short periods while they are sleeping. These pauses, which can occur 30 times or more times an hour, cause the person to wake as they gasp for air. This in turn prevents a restful night’s sleep. Sleep apnea is strongly associated with high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, coronary artery disease and heart failure.
The American National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research estimated that obstructive sleep apnea may account for 38,000 cardiovascular deaths in the US each year. An increasing number of studies are also showing links between insomnia and the risk of heart disease.
How much sleep is best for my heart?
Unfortunately, there’s debate amongst experts about exactly how much sleep is ideal. For ‘optimal health’ the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends seven of more hours of sleep per night for adults. While the American Heart Association suggests seven or eight is ideal. Meanwhile a study presented at the 2018 European Society of Cardiology conference suggested that between six and eight hours of sleep a night is the ideal for heart health. So, seven to eight hours sleep is probably a good target. (4)
How do heart conditions affect my sleep?
Of course, getting the ideal amount of sleep can be easier said than done, as anyone who has experienced insomnia knows only too well. Sometimes a heart condition can also negatively impact the quality of your sleep. While you probably can’t cure your heart condition, there are some steps you can take towards getting a better night’s sleep.
How can getting enough sleep protect your heart?
• Good-quality sleep decreases the work of your heart, as blood pressure and heart rate go down at night.
• People who are sleep-deprived show less variability in their heart rate, meaning that instead of fluctuating normally, the heart rate usually stays elevated. That is not a good sign. That looks like heightened stress.
• Lack of sleep can increase insulin resistance, a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
• Shortened sleep can increase CRP, or C-reactive protein, which is released with stress and inflammation. If your CRP is high, it’s a risk factor for cardiovascular and heart disease. Shortened sleep also interferes with appetite regulation. “So you may end up eating more or eating foods that are less healthy for your heart. (5)
Sleep is essential for a healthy heart. People who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease regardless of age, weight, smoking and exercise habits. Getting enough good quality sleep is important if you want to lower you risk of these conditions. An extra hour’s sleep isn’t the only upside of putting your clock back on Saturday night, for the following couple of days you may also be at a lower risk of a heart attack.
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