The Benefits Of Sleep

The benefits of sleep (and the problems caused by a lack of if) have a direct influence on heart health. We know that sleep duration has gone down from 1.5 to 2 hours a night per person over the last half century. This leaves all too many of us less productive, more emotional, with foggier, slower thinking processes and unable to fully enjoy all life has to offer.

Add to this more than one recent study that finds an association between getting less sleep (under 6 hours a night) and higher risk of heart disease.

In fact, during 2011 there was a European Heart Journal review of 15 research projects that included just about 475,000 subjects. This review found that short sleepers had a 48% higher risk of developing (or dying from) heart disease during the 7 to 25 year follow up, a 15% higher risk of dying from a stroke during that same time.

Curiously, those who got lots of sleep (9+ hours a night) also had a higher (38%) risk of developing or dying from heard disease, a 65% higher risk of stroke.

No one yet understands the mechanisms behind sleep and heart disease. It’s not that amount of sleep causes heart disease according to Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD a professor and director of the Sleep Disorders Program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, but it ups the risk factors for this condition. Lack of sleep increases your risk of possible trouble.

One 2008 research project out of the University of Chicago found an association between less sleep and higher coronary artery calcification, a good predictor of subsequent coronary artery disease.

Shorter sleep also predicted worsening high blood pressure – for most of us blood pressure naturally goes down at night. It could be that with less sleep, there isn’t enough time for the needed drop to happen.

Can you reverse this trend?

No one can say for sure. One of the reasons is that sleep’s effects on the heart are a new area of study. Measuring sleep is complicated as well, and many sleep studies rely on self-reported habits, which aren’t always so accurate. When you have your sleep measured with an activity monitor, this procedure changes your natural and usual pattern of sleep.

The take home message – for most of us, sleeping less than 6 hours a night is likely not good for us. According to Phyllis Zee, sleep…

- Decreases the work your heart has to do, both blood pressure and heart rate go down at night.

Continues below…

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How Your Heart Is Affected By How You Sleep… Continued…

- Sleep deprivation brings less variability in your heart rate, so the rate stays elevated, looking (and feeling) like high stress to the body.

- Sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance, a risk for developing both type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

- Lack of sleep can increase C-reactive protein; released with stress and inflammation – if this number is too high it’s a risk for heart disease.

- Not getting enough sleep interferes with appetite regulation, so you might eat more, or eat foods that aren’t so good for your heart.

Add all this to the troubles too little sleep gives us mentally and emotionally and you can see why getting the right amount of good, quality sleep is so important. After all, how you feel when you’re awake depends in good measure on how well you sleep each night. Practice good sleep habits and avoiding common enemies (caffeine, stimulation) of sleep to gain the most out of the benefits of sleep.