Sleep is good for the heart

The average amount of sleep that we get each night has fallen by around two hours over the past 40 years — not a good development for our cardiovascular systems. Adequate sleep is an important insurance against a range of risk factors including obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and high blood pressure, and people who don't get enough sleep are more likely to develop atherosclerosis. Here are some facts and figures about the effects of sleep on your health.

Sleep is good for the heart

1. Don’t skimp on sleep

  • In one study, scans showed calcified arteries — a measure of atherosclerosis — in almost one in three people who slept less than five hours per night, whereas getting just one more hour lowered the number of people affected to one in 10.
  • Blood pressure and heart rate are typically at their lowest during sleep, and people who sleep less tend to have higher blood pressure.
  • Women who lose sleep are particularly at risk, with those who sleep five hours or less a night twice as likely to suffer from hypertension as women who sleep seven hours or more.
  • Research findings from a study of the sleep patterns of about 10,000 people found that those who habitually slept five hours a night or less doubled their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease when compared with those who slept for seven hours or more.
  • The bottom line is people who sleep well live longer.

2. Don’t sleep too much

  • In fact, sleeping too little and sleeping too much are both bad for the health of your cardiovascular system.
  • Sleeping for five hours or less, or for nine hours or more, are both linked with a higher death rate from cardiovascular disease compared with sleeping for around seven hours a night.
  • The results are so marked that, according to current scientific opinion, how long people sleep may be a key predictor of their heart-disease risk.
  • The explanation may lie in the increased risks of diabetes and high blood pressure among people with very short or very long sleep-duration patterns.

3. Daytime dozing can be risky

  • Sleep disruption is particularly hazardous since it increases the levels of several blood-clotting factors, therefore raising the risk of blood clots.
  • And, if your sleep is regularly disturbed, the chances are that you will feel sleepy during the day.
  • According to a large study of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, daytime sleepiness was associated with a 35 per cent increased risk of cardiovascular disease in men and a 66 per cent increase in women.
  • Daytime sleepiness also increased the risk of heart failure by 49 per cent among men and more than 50 per cent in women.
  • So it's worth taking time to find out the cause of your disturbed nights, especially if you are a woman.

4. Snooze alert

  • Nodding off when you sit down to read a newspaper or watch television could be a sign that you are at risk of a stroke.
  • According to one study of 2,000 people, those who reported snoozing during the day when they didn't intend to fall asleep were more than twice as likely to have a stroke over the next two years as those who did not — and those who said this happened often had a risk four and a half times higher than normal.
  • So if you have developed a habit of unintentional daytime dozing, see your doctor for a check-up.
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