This Bad Sleep Habit Is Linked to Heart Disease

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Man holding his chest while lying in bed
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Going to bed at the same time consistently helps many people sleep better. Now, evidence suggests it also might protect their heart health.

Having irregular sleep patterns — such as falling asleep at different times or having variations of more than two hours in sleep duration — is associated with an increased likelihood of developing atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque on the artery walls, according to research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2023.

These fatty deposits cause arteries to narrow, reducing blood flow along with the amount of oxygen and other nutrients in the body. A plaque that bursts also can create a blood clot that leads to a heart attack or stroke.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 2,000 adults who were age 45 or older and had an average age of 69. Those who participated in the study wore a wrist device that monitored their waking and sleeping patterns. Participants also kept a sleep diary and completed a one-night, in-home sleep study.

Researchers looked at the presence of plaque in the arteries. Those who had sleep durations that varied by more than two hours during a week were more likely to have a higher score measuring the presence of coronary artery calcium and more likely to have carotid plaque.

They also were significantly more likely to have abnormal results from an ankle brachial index, which measures systemic atherosclerosis and stiffness in the blood vessels.

Coronary artery calcium scores were even higher for those with more irregular sleep timing.

In a summary of the study’s findings, study lead author Kelsie Full, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of epidemiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, says:

“Maintaining regular sleep schedules and decreasing variability in sleep is an easily adjustable lifestyle behavior that can not only help improve sleep, but also help reduce cardiovascular risk for aging adults.”

Poor sleep has been linked to many health problems, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes

The American Heart Association urges adults to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.

For more about the importance of good sleep, check out “7 Surprising Ways Lack of Sleep Makes Your Life Miserable.”

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