Health

Research has shown that sleep can be just as important to heart health as diet and physical activity

Research has shown that sleep can be just as important to heart health as diet and physical activity

Add a good night’s rest to your to-do list if you want to keep your heart healthy, says a new study. (Mitarart, Adobe Stock)

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WASHINGTON – If you want to keep your heart healthy, add a good night’s rest to your to-do list, a new study says.

Heart disease is Killer no. 1 in the country, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Someone in the US dies from cardiovascular disease every 34 seconds.

In June, American Heart Association added sleep duration to his cardiovascular health checklist, now called the “Life Essential 8.” These science-based guidelines were created to help all Americans improve their heart health.

Eight items: quit smoking, eat better, be active, control weight, control blood pressure, control cholesterol, lower blood sugar and ensure sound sleep.

Some of the research behind the change was published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Research by scientists at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health shows that cardiovascular health guidelines are more effective in predicting heart disease risk if they include sleep.

Researchers reviewed sleep data from 2,000 middle-aged and older adults in an ongoing US study of cardiovascular disease and risk factors for cardiovascular disease called the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, or MESA.

Participants participated in a detailed sleep study. They filled out sleep surveys, wore a device that measured their sleep for seven days, and did an overnight study where scientists could observe how they slept.

Poor sleep habits “are pervasive” among Americans, the study says, including the study participants. It was found that about 63% of them sleep less than seven hours a night, and 30% sleep less than six hours. The optimal duration of sleep for an adult is between seven and nine hours a night, According to the CDC.

People who slept less than seven hours a night were more likely to have “low sleep efficiency,” irregular sleep patterns, excessive daytime sleepiness, and sleep apnea. Specifically, nearly half of the people in the study had moderate to severe sleep apnea. More than a third reported symptoms of insomnia, and 14% reported excessive daytime sleepiness.

Those who slept less than seven hours had a higher prevalence of heart disease risk factors such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Other research has also shown a link between short sleep and chronic diseases that can also harm heart health.

“Poor sleep is also associated with other poor health behaviors,” said study author Nour Makarem, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. These poor health behaviors also contribute to poor heart health.

There is more and more evidence that people who don’t get enough sleep often have a poor diet, Makarem said. This may be in part because sleep is a restorative process that, among other things, produces and regulates hormones that make you feel full or hungry. When those hormones go out of whack, you may end up eating more and looking for high-calorie foods that give you quick energy.

Poor sleep is also associated with less engagement in physical activity, Makarem said.

“Both poor diet and lack of physical activity are, of course, also important risk factors for heart disease,” she said. “Thus, sleep is associated with many risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including psychological risk factors.”


They measure your blood pressure, they ask you how well you eat and how much you exercise, but they don’t ask much ‘how well do you sleep at night?’

–Sharon Cobb, Charles R Drew University of Medicine and Science


Poor sleep can increase stress levels and the risk of depression, both of which affect heart health.

“In short, sleep is associated with clinical or psychological risk factors for heart disease and lifestyle related to heart disease. So it’s no surprise that poor sleep would increase future risk of heart disease,” Makarem added.

Sharon Cobb, director of the prelicensed nursing program and associate professor at the Mervyn M. Dymally School of Nursing at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, said it’s important for healthcare providers to consider sleep when evaluating one’s health as a whole.

She hopes future studies will provide more evidence of the link between good health and good sleep and encourage more providers to ask questions.

“They take your blood pressure, they ask how well you’re eating and how much you’re exercising, but they don’t ask much ‘how well do you sleep at night?’ ” said Cobb, who was not involved in the new research. “Good sleep is essential for improving health.”

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