Experts have long suspected that sleep plays an important role in overall health, but new research published in the journal Circulation indicates an especially strong link between getting ample slumber and maintaining heart health. Specifically, individuals with the healthiest sleep habits slash their risk of heart failure by 42%. The condition happens when the heart can’t pump blood as well as it should, resulting in insufficient blood and oxygen to the cells. Patients experience fatigue, breathing challenges, and other health complications as a result.
The study characterizes healthy sleep as an early wake time, a duration of seven to eight hours each night, and no bouts of snoring, insomnia, or excessive tiredness. Markers of heart health included low LDL (“bad” cholesterol), reduced inflammation, and higher HDL (“good” cholesterol). These measures are commonly used to evaluate heart failure risk.
More than 408,000 participants were tracked over a decade, with 5,221 people developing heart failure. The data revealed the following trends:
- People who woke up early had an 8% lower risk of heart failure.
- People who didn’t experience frequent insomnia had a 17% lower risk.
- People who regularly got seven to eight hours of sleep had a 12% lower risk.
- People who didn’t feel sleepy throughout the day had a 34% lower risk.
Although the research couldn’t confirm whether poor sleep led to heart issues or vice versa, the researchers noted that they aimed to exclude people with existing heart failure from the study. Thus, the results in this particular study seem to suggest that poor sleep contributes to the condition, though a bidirectional relationship is possible.
The Potential Link Between Sleep & Heart Health
Other studies have examined a connection between poor sleep and cardiovascular issues, including arrhythmia, coronary heart disease, and coronary artery disease, all of which can contribute to heart failure. It’s also worth noting that two markers looked at in the study—daytime tiredness and snoring—are also potential indications of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). While the possible role of OSA in heart failure would need to be studied further, research has already linked it to other cardiovascular issues, including stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure.
Finding the Sweet Spot
Getting enough sleep is important to overall wellness, but it’s also important to consider that too much sleep could present health issues. Sleeping over eight hours was associated with poor cardiovascular health in the study, and other research has also linked it to cardiovascular disease. Researchers believe excessive sleep could also point to health issues such as chronic illness or depression, which could explain the correlation. For this reason, it’s best to aim for seven to eight hours a night.
Tips for Healthy Sleep
In addition to getting seven to eight hours a night, try to wake early and address any sleep challenges, such as snoring, insomnia, or sleep apnea, with a healthcare professional. You can also use the following tips to improve your overall sleep habits:
- Turn off all electronics. At least a half-hour before bed, spend time away from screens. The blue light can disrupt the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
- Establish a winding down routine. Consider taking a soothing bath, listening to relaxing music, reading a book, or meditating.
- Turn the lights down. This can kickstart melatonin production and communicate to your body that it’s time for sleep.
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