Want to Help Your Heart? Get a Good Night's Sleep

Everyone knows that sleep has important mental and physical benefits, and now new research suggests that getting more than eight hours of sleep per night may reduce the risk of developing calcium deposits in the arteries of the heart (coronary arteries) that can lead to heart disease.

Calcium deposits, or calcifications, in the coronary arteries are more common in people who have other risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, a family history of heart disease, and in people over age 65, men, and people who smoke. These calcifications are a significant risk factor for heart disease, which can cause heart attacks and even death. With this new study, getting enough sleep joins the standard recommendations for healthy diet, exercise, and treating chronic conditions such as high blood pressure that are associated with heart disease.

Get more than six hours of sleep each night

Prior studies have shown that a lack of sleep can lead to chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and even obesity. This new study examined the association between sleep duration and coronary artery calcification.

In this study 495 healthy, middle-aged participants were monitored for calcification of their coronary arteries through computed tomography (CT) scanning twice over a five-year period and participated in sleep studies that examined the quantity and quality of their sleep.

Results showed that longer sleep duration is associated with a lower incidence of coronary artery calcification. People who slept less than six hours per night were more likely to have calcifications than people who slept more, and people who slept more than eight hours per night were least likely to have calcifications. Even one hour more of sleep decreased the risk of calcification by 33%.

Diane Lauderdale, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Health Studies at the University of Chicago, comments: “This study contributes to a growing body of evidence suggesting that there may be subtle but important health consequences to routinely sleeping very short durations, such as less than six hours per night.” Further research is needed to understand the role of sleep on preventing or contributing to heart disease.

Heart disease prevention tips

• Don’t smoke: Smoking significantly increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks as well as other chronic diseases such as lung cancer.

• Maintain a healthy weight: Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. If overweight or obese, losing weight may help prevent or improve these conditions.

• Prevent and manage related conditions: High blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol are all risk factors for heart disease, so it is important to know your blood pressure and your glucose and cholesterol levels. If they are high, seek treatment by a physician.

• Exercise regularly: Exercising 30 minutes or more on most days of the week may significantly decrease the risk of heart disease.

• Eat a balanced diet: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes with a moderate amount of poultry and fish may help prevent and improve chronic diseases such as heart disease.

• Get seven hours of sleep or more a night: A good night’s sleep appears to be more important than previously realized, as a lack of sleep may lead to chronic disease.

(JAMA 2008;300:2859–66)

Jane Hart, MD

Copyright © 2009 Aisle7. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of the Aisle7 content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Aisle7. Healthnotes Newswire is for educational or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a healthcare professional. Aisle7 shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Aisle7 and the Aisle7 logo are registered trademarks of Aisle7.

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