The Connection Between Sleep and Heart Health

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Sleep is not an indulgence; the right amount is critical for your health. Yet another study confirms this truth by showing a link between insufficient sleep and a higher risk of heart disease.

NPR analyzed research published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology indicating that the right amount of good-quality sleep is key to good heart health and that poor sleep habits can raise your risk for heart disease at a relatively young age.

According to the data, adults who slept fewer than five hours a night had 50% more calcium in their coronary arteries than those who slept seven hours. But too much sleep also might not be a good idea: Adults who slept nine hours or more a night had 70% more coronary calcium compared with those who slept seven hours.

Calcification in your arteries signifies plaque buildup and coronary heart disease. The more calcium, the greater the risk.

The study showed that sleep quality is important, too. Adults who reported poor sleep quality also had 20% more calcium buildup in their arteries than those who said they slept well. Of course, that’s a subjective report, which describes the whole study, and therefore can’t be considered scientifically definitive. But the results reflect those of more objective research into sleep quality and effects.

The study involved more than 47,000 young and middle-aged men and women who answered questions about how long and how well they slept. They underwent tests to measure their cardiovascular health, including measuring the amount of calcium in the arteries of the heart. Stiffness of arteries, which also indicates heart health, was measured by the speed of blood coursing through the arteries in the upper arm and ankle.

The researchers found that the best heart health was among adults who slept, on average, about seven hours a night and reported good sleep quality.

NPR interviewed Dr. David Meyerson, a Johns Hopkins cardiologist and spokesman for the American Heart Association, who called the study results “profound.”

“You wouldn’t imagine that too little sleep, too much, or not sleeping well is going to influence your blood vessels so quickly or so early in life.”

The study does not prove that sleep problems cause heart problems. But it’s another reason to study the association more thoroughly.

Meyerson suggested that several factors potentially play a role in the sleep-heart connection, including hormones and chemical changes in the body during sleep that can increase blood pressure.

To learn more about slumbering well, read Patrick’s newsletter, “The Struggle to Sleep.”

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