Lack of sleep can be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease

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Scientific researchers have noticed a marked increase in heart attacks and strokes in the days following the change to daylight saving time each spring. However, the American Heart Association, the leading global health organization dedications to fighting heart disease and stroke, says losing sleep anytime can be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Getting a good night's sleep every night is vital to cardiovascular health. Adults should aim for an average of 7-9 hours, and babies and kids need more depending on their age. Unfortunately, we know that as many as 1 in 3 people do not get their recommended amount of sleep each night."

Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Sc.M., FAHA, past volunteer president of the American Heart Association and chair of the department of preventive medicine, the Eileen M. Foell Professor of Heart Research and professor of preventive medicine, medicine and pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago

According to Lloyd-Jones, the amount of sleep and quality of sleep are important, and both can have significant impacts on cardiovascular health, as well as overall health. In addition to increasing risk for cardiovascular conditions like heart attack and stroke, lack of sleep may also put people at risk of things like depression, cognitive decline and obesity.

New research in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows maintaining a consistent sleep pattern may play an important role in preventing cardiovascular disease. Researchers found that falling asleep at different times or sleeping an inconsistent number of hours each night, even variations of more than two hours a night within the same week, were tied to developing hardened arteries, known as atherosclerosis.

"We know that people who get adequate sleep manage other health factors better as well, such as weight, blood sugar and blood pressure," Lloyd-Jones said. "The American Heart Association recently added sleep to the list of factors that support optimal cardiovascular health. We call these Life's Essential 8, and they include: eating a healthy diet, not smoking or vaping, being physically active and getting adequate sleep, along with controlling your blood pressure and maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol and lipids, healthy blood sugar levels and a healthy weight."

Lloyd-Jones notes that making even small changes in daily habits can make a big difference in sleep quality. Here are some tips the American Heart Association recommends:

  • Make healthy living a habit: Eat a balanced diet, get regular physical activity and manage stress to support a healthier night's sleep.
  • Set the alarm – for morning and night: Stick to specific times to go to bed and wake up each day and commit to a consistent sleep schedule as much as possible. Along with a wake-up alarm, try a bedtime alarm to indicate it's time to start winding down.
  • Establish bedtime habits: Once your bedtime alarm goes off, move into a familiar ritual, like brushing your teeth, washing your face or taking a warm bath.
  • Relax and unwind: Take a few minutes to de-stress, consider reading, journaling, meditating or listening to music to ease into a good night's rest.
  • Take a technology break: A bedroom free of light and technology will equate to better sleep, so keep your phone and other devices away from the bed. Try logging off your electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime.

Getting to sleep can be tricky for some people, however, sleep supplements should be used sparingly, and only under the advice of a health care clinician. It's also very important to consider the possibility of a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or insomnia. These conditions can increase a person's risk of heart disease and stroke and should be treated appropriately to improve the quality and duration of sleep, as well as overall health.

"While it may take a while to make falling asleep and staying asleep a habit, taking the time to develop and then stick with a good, natural bedtime routine is important," Lloyd-Jones said. "When first starting out, don't lie in bed tossing and turning if you're restless. Get up and try a few things to sooth your mind, maybe write out a to-do list for the next day, read a few pages of a good book or do some yoga stretches. Just make one small change at a time, adding a new one every week or so until you find what works best for you. Soon you'll be sleeping soundly through the night and waking up refreshed each morning, knowing you're being good to yourself and to your heart."

Journal reference:

Full, K.M., et al. (2023) Sleep Irregularity and Subclinical Markers of Cardiovascular Disease: The Multi‐Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Journal of the American Heart Association.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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