Research shows that irregular sleep can harm your heart

When you don’t get enough sleep, the short-term consequences are noticeable — maybe you’re distracted at work or cranky with loved ones. But ultimately, irregular and poor quality sleep can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“This study is one of the first to provide evidence of a link between irregular and irregular sleep duration and atherosclerosis,” said study lead author Kelsie Full, assistant professor of medicine in the department of epidemiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. .

According to the American Heart Association, atherosclerosis is a buildup of plaque in the arteries. This plaque is made up of cholesterol, fat, cellular waste, calcium, and fibrin, a blood-clotting substance. As plaque builds up, blood vessel walls thicken, reducing blood flow and thus reducing the amount of oxygen and other nutrients reaching the rest of the body. Atherosclerosis can lead to cardiovascular health conditions, including coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, stroke, and carotid or peripheral artery disease.

Poor sleep – including poor quality, abnormal quantity and disrupted sleep – has previously been linked to cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular disease mortality, but little is known about the specific link between sleep and heart disease. regular sleep and atherosclerosis.

The authors of the new study determined that regular sleep is estimated by variations in sleep duration (how long a person sleeps per night) and sleep duration (how long it takes someone to fall asleep) nightly) – the fewer variations the better.

The authors set out to learn more about this relationship by analyzing the sleep of older adults – 69 years old on average – who participated in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, a cohort study. longitudinal system designed to investigate prevalence, progression, and risk factors. for, cardiovascular disease. More than 2,000 participants were recruited between 2000 and 2002 from Minnesota, Maryland, Illinois, North Carolina, California, and New York State.

During a sleep assessment conducted between 2010 and 2013, participants kept sleep diaries for seven consecutive days and wore a wristwatch that tracked their sleep and wake history. Surname. Participants also underwent a home sleep study that measured breathing rate, sleep stage, night awakenings, and heart rate.

After the participants’ cardiovascular health was assessed over the same time frame, the researchers found that those with irregular sleep durations – those varying from 90 minutes to more than two hours within a week – about 1.4 times more likely to have a coronary artery calcium score. compared to those with more consistent sleep times. (This calcium score measures the amount of calcified plaque in the arteries; higher numbers increase the risk of certain cardiovascular diseases.) The former group was also more likely to have carotid plaque and abnormal results from blood vessel stiffness test.

“These results suggest that maintaining regular or habitual amounts of sleep, or sleeping roughly the same amount of time each night, may play an important role in preventing heart-related diseaes”.


Because sleep quality and atherosclerosis were measured at the same time, the researchers could not assess or prove whether irregular sleep caused the condition – they only found an association between the two. this factor.

The findings of the study published Wednesday may be due to a direct link between sleep and heart, and/or other lifestyle factors.

Dr Donald Lloyd-Jones, chief of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said: “People who sleep less or sleep irregularly tend to have less healthy lifestyles. (like diet and physical activity). , said by email. Lloyd-Jones was not involved in the study.

“Sleep is important for the heart to rest, as that’s when the heart rate slows and blood pressure usually drops,” he adds. “Without regular rest, the heart and vascular system become stressed over time.”

Dr Andrew Freeman, director of prevention and cardiovascular health at National Jewish Health in Denver, says anything that disrupts a person’s sleep can lead to changes that affect the heart. Freeman was not involved in the study.

“Disrupted sleep — especially (in) people with sleep apnea — often releases catecholamines like adrenaline, which can cause all sorts of things if it’s a chronic problem,” says Freeman. He adds that disrupted sleep can also be a sign of increased stress or anxiety.

However, the study’s findings were in participants with no history of cardiovascular disease, so people should pay attention, Lloyd-Jones said.

“Sleep is important to all of us,” he added. “It’s an important part of Life’s Essential 8 approach to optimizing your heart health – which can also help prevent cancer, dementia and many other chronic diseases of old age.”

Life’s Essential 8 is the American Heart Association’s checklist for lifelong good health, including healthy eating, physical activity, quitting smoking, weight control, cholesterol control, control blood sugar and blood pressure.

The association recommends that adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, which is more likely to happen if you have proper sleep hygiene. That involves going to bed at the same time every night, waking up at the same time every day, avoiding caffeine after late in the morning, using your bedroom only for sleep and intimacy, Avoid using screens before bed and sleep in a dark, quiet, and cool room.

“I also recommend keeping a notebook by your bed,” says Freeman. “Then, when people wake up in the middle of the night, (they should) write down what comes to their mind first. It could be they hear birds singing or they have to pee or they have a stressor. And that can be a focus when they’re meditating or doing something mindful.”

If you have sleep apnea or persistent sleep problems, seek treatment from a sleep specialist or other clinician.

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