Everyone knows the importance of getting a good night’s sleep, but a new study could help if you still need some convincing. According to researchers, you should aim to get at least six hours of sleep every night if you want to have a healthy heart.
Yes, a new study has discerned that chronic lack of sleep and poor sleep quality can increase the accumulation of fatty plaque in arteries. This is a condition known as atherosclerosis and it is associated with increased risk for both heart attack and stroke.
The new study gathered 4,000 people—with an average age of 46—who wore an actigraph for seven days. This is a tool that measures activity while you sleep. Also, the participants had 3D heart ultrasound tests and cardiac CT scans to investigate their risk for heart disease at the beginning of the study. Sure enough, the study showed that those who slept for less than six hours a night, consistently, were approximately 27 percent more likely to develop atherosclerosis than those who would get at least 7 hours of sleep.
As such, lead study author Jose M. Ordovas explains, “This study emphasizes we have to include sleep as one of the weapons we use to fight heart disease—a factor we are compromising every day.”
It should be noted, too, that sleeping for too many hours is also not great for your heart. The study actually suggests that sleeping more than eight hours a night also showed an increased risk for atherosclerosis, at least for women. In addition those who had poor sleep quality—characterized by frequent awakenings or difficulty falling asleep—also had 34 percent increased risk for the condition when compared against those who got quality sleep (for 7 to 8 hours).
Ordovas, who is also the Tufts University Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging Director of Nutrition and Genomics, adds that short sleep cycles and poor quality sleep also appear to be linked with higher levels of caffeine and alcohol use. He explains, “Many people think alcohol is a good inducer of sleep, but there’s a rebound effect. If you drink alcohol, you may wake up after a short period of sleep and have a hard time getting back to sleep; and if you do get back to sleep, it’s often a poor-quality slee.”
The results of this study has been published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.