When Sleep is Too Little, Too Much or Too Late
has found that not only is the restorative nature of sleep
beneficial for the heart, but also an “early to bed, early to rise” pattern
makes it less likely for an individual to engage in three habits that are
cardiovascular risk factors:
A sedentary lifestyle
Poor food choices
Given that these habits have been statistically associated with 40 percent
of cardiovascular fatalities in the United States and the United Kingdom,
the importance of the right amount of sleep — and at optimal times —
quickly becomes apparent.
“Studies show that poor sleep habits can increase the risk of heart
Marwa Sabe, MD
(right), who treats cardiovascular disease and heart failure in the
at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “It is well known that sleep apnea
is associated with increased risk of several cardiac diseases, including
heart failure and arrhythmia. However, even those without sleep-disordered
breathing have a risk of cardiovascular disease. Too little or too much
sleep may both be detrimental to the heart.”
A Wake-Up Call for Better Sleep
The research linking certain sleep patterns to habits associated with
cardiovascular problems used British data and was conducted by researchers
at the University of Delaware in collaboration with the University of
Pennsylvania, Drexel University and the University of Arizona College of
Medicine. It defined short sleep as six hours or less, adequate sleep as
seven to eight hours and long sleep as nine hours or more. Participants in
the study reported on their physical activity, how much time they spent
daily watching TV or using a computer, how many servings of fruits and
vegetables they ate daily, and how many cigarettes they smoked in an
Compared to adequate sleepers, those who had short or long sleep patterns,
or went to bed late, were more likely to smoke, have a sedentary lifestyle
and consume fewer fruits and vegetables. The study of an enormous database
of 439,933 people showed an association between sleep and cardiovascular
risk factors, but did not nail down the exact cause of the association.
Another study published in the
American Heart Association
journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology confirms
the importance of adequate sleep for heart health. More than 47,000 young
adult and middle-aged participants filled out a questionnaire on their
sleep habits and underwent tests to detect arterial stiffness and the
presence of calcium in coronary arteries indicating early coronary artery
, or hardening of the arteries, is considered associated with coronary
artery disease, while
calcification in the coronary arteries
is an early sign of coronary heart disease.
The research found:
Adults who sleep five hours a day or less had 50 percent more coronary
calcium in their coronary arteries than those who sleep seven hours a
Those who sleep nine or more hours a day have more than 70 percent more
coronary calcium compared to those who sleep seven hours.
Those who have poor quality of sleep had 20 percent more coronary
calcium than those who reported good sleep quality.
Alternatives to Counting Sheep
Understanding the importance of a good’s night sleep for a healthy heart is
only part of the equation, according to Dr. Sabe.
“Actually getting that sleep can be a whole other issue for those
who find it a challenge to nod off each night,” she says.
American Heart Association
suggests these simple tips for improving sleep:
Get regular exercise.
People who exercise regularly — described as 150 minutes of moderate
exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week — are more likely
to fall asleep sooner and stay asleep for six to eight hours.
Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine.
Take a bath, read a book, watch television or engage in relaxation
Stay away from stimulants before bedtime.
Avoiding caffeine, sodas and chocolate after dinner can help you to
fall asleep — and stay asleep.
Avoid sleep medications.
Although they may appear to help in the short-term, even infrequent
use of sleep medications (less than twice a month) has been
determined to increase the risk of death by a third.
More Benefits of Sound Sleep
In addition to lowering your risk for heart disease, adopting healthy sleep
patterns can help improve your overall physical and mental well-being.
According to the
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
, a good night’s sleep helps the brain form new pathways and enhances
learning skills. It also helps the body maintain a healthy balance of
hormones—including insulin, which can decrease the risk of diabetes — and
keeps the immune system functioning at optimal levels.
So the next time your head hits the pillow, remember that the right amount
of sleep at the right time will help make the dream of cardiovascular
health a reality.
Above content provided by the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult