Sleep is important. We know this because science says so, and we all know the consequences of a poor night’s sleep. Get too little rest one night, and you may feel tired and irritable, finding it difficult to concentrate and stay awake the next day. Get too little rest for an extended time, however, and you increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Yet, for all we know about sleep’s vital impact on our health, people are busy, and according to the CDC, 1 in 3 adults don’t get the recommended 7–9 hours of sleep each night. It takes a toll.
To find out exactly how sleep affects the human heart, a recent study published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, examined the relationship between healthy sleep patterns and heart failure in more than 400,000 participants over an average of 10 years. The scientists identified certain factors to measure healthy sleep quality, including sleep duration, insomnia, snoring, bedtime and whether or not one unintentionally dozes off during the day.
Participants with the healthiest sleep scores based on the above criteria had a 42% reduction in the risk of heart failure compared to people with unhealthy sleep patterns. Incidents of heart failure were also lower for early risers, people who slept 7–9 hours each day, people without frequent insomnia, and those who reported experiencing no daytime sleepiness.
“Our findings highlight the importance of improving overall sleep patterns to help prevent heart failure,” said Dr. Lu Qi, a study co-author, professor of epidemiology and director of the Obesity Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Sleep is when our bodies repair themselves. According to the Sleep Foundation, our blood pressure lowers, the heart rate drops and breathing steadies during healthy sleep, which reduces stress on the heart and helps it to recover from the rigors of the day. Unhealthy sleep, on the other hand, may cause the heart to work harder than it should while you’re slumbering, so it doesn’t adequately recuperate each night. In fact, those who sleep fewer than 6 hours each night have a 20% higher chance of suffering a heart attack.
Weight gain is another side effect associated with poor sleep quality, and obesity is considered a risk factor for developing chronic heart disease. Short sleep duration is tied to higher BMIs, and getting too little sleep may also cause you to make unhealthy food choices, regularly reaching for more sugary, high-fat foods than your well-rested peers.
Put it all together, and the importance of sleep as it relates to your heart can’t be overstated. Aim for 7–9 hours each night, and if you think you may have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor. It’s not always easy to carve out that time each night, and everyone is bound to have the occasional issue or disruption, especially when your schedule is packed and time is limited. But working to improve your sleep quality is one proven (and relaxing) way to protect that ticker.
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