Lack of Sleep is a Threat to Your Heart

By Rob Dillard - Last Updated: March 7, 2023

A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that a lack of sleep may increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, highlighting the importance of a good night’s rest.

“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 in an AHA article. “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.”

In this analysis, 2,032 participants from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) study (mean age, 68, 37.9% White) completed a 7-day wrist actigraphy, which is an objective method for measuring sleep patterns. The population of interest were all assessed for coronary artery calcium, carotid plaque presence, carotid intima‐media thickness, and the ankle‐brachial index. As the researchers noted, sleep regularity was quantified by the 7‐day with‐in person SD of sleep duration and sleep onset timing.

Irregular Sleep Patterns Linked With Heart Disease

According to the results, compared with participants with more regular sleep durations (SD<60), people with higher instances of sleep irregularity (SD >120 minutes) were more likely to have high coronary artery calcium burden (>300; prevalence ratio, 1.33 [95% CI, 1.03–1.71]) and abnormal ankle‐brachial index (<0.9; prevalence ratio, 1.75 [95% CI, 1.03–2.95]). “This study is one of the first studies to provide evidence that irregular sleep duration and timing are associated with measures of subclinical atherosclerosis,” the researchers concluded. The development of atherosclerosis is a long process, allowing time for intervention before plaques have formed and hardened and can cause severe stenosis or rupture. Encouraging maintenance of regular sleep schedules with consistent sleep durations may be an important part of lifestyle recommendations provided in clinical practice for the prevention of CVD.”

To ameliorate this issue, Dr. Lloyd-Jones of the AHA provided the following tips:

  • Eat Healthy: A balanced diet, and regular exercise support a better night’s sleep.
  • Set an alarm: Setting an alarm for morning and night works. Also, per the AHA, stick to specific times to go to bed and wake up each day.
  • Establish bedtime habits: After your alarm goes off, establish daily habits (i.e. working, brushing your teeth).
  • Relax: Before you get your busy day started, take some time to relax. Perhaps write, read, or even watch some television.
  • Take a technology break before: Try unplugging from all electrical devices at least an hour before you go to sleep.


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