Many medical organisations and experts have studied the link between heart health and sleep habits, and the results are undeniable: those who got sufficient and better sleep, had a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease.
Chicago-based sleep expert Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD explains it simply: “Good-quality sleep decreases the work your heart does, as blood pressure and heart rate take a drop at night while you sleep. However, people who are sleep-deprived show less variability in their heart rate, meaning that instead of fluctuating normally, the heart rate usually stays elevated,” she says. This lack of rest ends up looking like “heightened stress” to your body.
This finding was supported by a 2008 study, as explained by researcher Diane Lauderdale, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the University of Chicago: “For most people, blood pressure falls at night, so it could be that with shorter sleep it’s just not enough for that dip to take place.”
But stress is only the tip of the iceberg. The University of Chicago study also found a link between shortened sleep and increased coronary artery calcification (calcium deposits), known to be a symptom that leads towards coronary artery disease. Dr Zee also reinforces that lack of sleep can increase insulin resistance, heightening risk for developing not just heart disease but also type 2 diabetes.
According to a 2011 medical study by the European Heart Journal, short sleepers had a 48% increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease and a 15% greater risk of developing or dying from stroke in a seven to 25-year follow-up period.
And it’s not just for adults. The American National Sleep Foundation based in Washington, DC reported that teens were also at greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease, with higher cholesterol levels, a higher body mass index, larger waist sizes, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of hypertension. The Foundation went on to say that making lifestyle adjustments in earlier years could help protect sleep habits that could otherwise snowball into major concerns later on.
A long-term study under a programme by the World Health Organisation that investigated the relationship between poor sleep and their long-term risk of stroke, reported that a whopping 63% of participants who experienced a heart attack also reported having a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders also tend to be closely associated with feelings of anxiety, depression, hostility and exhaustion. Among the men who participated in the study, various social gradients were also taken into account; for example participants who were divorced, widowed, hadn’t completed their high school education, or served as a manual labor worker appeared to have increased risk.
On the flipside of the same coin, a new large study from the Netherlands published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology studied four traditional lifestyle factors (smoking, diet, exercise and alcohol intake) related to risks of cardiovascular disease. The analysis suggests that the effect of sufficient sleep on heart-related deaths could be as strong as not smoking.Principal investigator of the study said that public health impact of sufficient sleep – that they defined as 7 or more hours per night – “could be substantial”, and that the importance of sufficient sleep “should be mentioned as an additional way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Raymonde Jean, MD, Director of sleep medicine and associate director of critical care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, also puts his stamp of approval on getting adequate sleep, saying it can “definitely reduce levels of stress, and gives people better control of their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which plays a significant role in heart disease.”
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