Sleep Soundly for Heart Health

The Washington Times Weekly - - Health&fitness -

Get­ting a good night’s sleep does far more than im­prove your mood and level of alert­ness the next day. New re­search shows that sleep may be good for your heart health as well. That means that, along with main­tain­ing a healthy diet and ex­er­cis­ing, ad­e­quate sleep should be con­sid­ered a cru­cial part of a healthy lifestyle.

About one-third of Amer­i­cans sleep 6.5 hours or less a night, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Sleep Foun­da­tion. While th­ese Amer­i­cans may be putting their health at risk, peo­ple shouldn’t spend all of their time sleep­ing, ei­ther; re­search shows that sleep­ing more than nine hours may also have dele­te­ri­ous ef­fects, al­though the rea­sons for this are less clear. Be­low, sleep re­searcher David White, MD, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of medicine at Har­vard Med­i­cal School, dis­cusses the com­plex re­la­tion­ship be­tween sleep and heart dis­ease. Does sleep af­fect risk for heart dis­ease?

There is some early evolv­ing ev­i­dence that how much you sleep may con­trib­ute to heart at­tacks. We looked a group of 70,000 nurses that had been fol­lowed for a long pe­riod of time, and we com­pared how many hours they re­ported sleep­ing at night with the num­ber of heart at­tacks that oc­curred af­ter they had re­ported to us how long they slept.

We fol­lowed them for about 10 years, and what we found was that if they slept less than six or seven hours per night, the in­ci­dence of heart at­tacks went up rel­a­tively steeply. Peo­ple who slept about five hours a night had about a 40 per­cent higher rate of heart at­tack than peo­ple who slept eight hours a night. Sur­pris­ingly, peo­ple who slept nine or more hours also had more heart at­tacks, though there was not as big an ef­fect. Now this doesn’t ex­plain why sleep­ing less or sleep­ing more caused the prob­lem, but it cer­tainly sug­gests that there is an im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship there. How might sleep de­pri­va­tion in­crease risk for heart dis­ease?

I think there are two or three things that may be im­por­tant. Short-term stud­ies show that with sleep de­pri­va­tion, the sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem be­comes ac­ti­vated. As a re­sult, your blood ves­sels con­strict and your blood pres­sure tends to go up. And we think that may play a role in heart dis­ease.

Sleep de­pri­va­tion prob­a­bly also af­fects the reg­u­la­tion of blood sugar. If you’re sleep de­prived, it re­quires more in­sulin to keep your blood sugar where it should be than it does if you’re not sleep de­prived. And el­e­vated in­sulin lev­els and poor blood sugar reg­u­la­tion are ma­jor con­trib­u­tors to de­vel­op­ment of vas­cu­lar dis­ease, which then can lead to heart dis­ease. What other sleep prob­lems may be a fac­tor?

Sleep apnea is a con­di­tion that is char­ac­ter­ized by a col­lapse of the air­way that oc­curs dur­ing sleep. When the air­way col­lapses, even­tu­ally the per­son wakes up to re­sume breath­ing, and goes back to sleep and does it again. Ob­vi­ously, if you have to wake up to breathe, you don’t sleep very well.

There’s sub­stan­tial lit­er­a­ture sug­gest­ing that the falls in oxy­gen and the el­e­va­tions in car­bon diox­ide con­trib­ute to the de­vel­op­ment of heart dis­ease. Sleep apnea clearly con­trib­utes to the de­vel­op­ment of high blood pres­sure, and it leads to the de­vel­op­ment of heart at­tacks, strokes and con­ges­tive heart fail­ure as well. How im­por­tant is good sleep for heart health?

There’s evolv­ing ev­i­dence that get­ting a rea­son­able quan­tity of good qual­ity sleep is im­por­tant in main­tain­ing health and par­tic­u­larly heart health. That’s not to say that if you sleep fewer than six hours or you sleep more nine or more hours, it’s go­ing to be the over­whelm­ing vari­able in the de­vel­op­ment of heart dis­ease, but it will prob­a­bly be a con­trib­u­tor along with a variety of other fac­tors.

©2007 Healthol­ogy, Inc.

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