To keep your arteries open, sleep well.
New research connects poor sleep habits with hardening of the arteries.
Get a good night’s sleep.
It’s old advice, and you probably know most of the reasons why it’s been repeated for so long. People who sleep seven or more hours a night are more alert the next day. They’re less likely to be obese. They’re less likely to develop diabetes. Their life expectancy is longer than those who don’t sleep enough.
But wait! There’s more.
A new study from Spain is the first to directly suggest that people who get six hours or less of sleep each day are more likely to develop fatty plaque in their arteries — a condition known as atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
People with atherosclerosis are those most at risk of heart attack or stroke, because the arteries have narrowed so much they can’t carry enough oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
As the Journal of American College of Cardiology, which published the study, put it in an editorial: The study is “more evidence that we could all use a good night’s sleep.”
About the study
Researchers and others were careful to say the study doesn’t definitively conclude that lack of sleep causes hardening of the arteries. But the correlation is clear: People who slept six hours or less were 27 percent more likely to develop atherosclerosis throughout the body than those who slept seven to eight hours. And people who had poor quality sleep, characterized by frequent awakenings, are 34 percent more likely to have atherosclerosis.
Unlike previous studies, the American College of Cardiology noted, the Spanish study excluded people with heart problems or diabetes, making it easier to isolate the conditions of the arteries.
"This is the first study to show that objectively measured sleep is independently associated with atherosclerosis throughout the body, not just in the heart,” said lead researcher Jose Ordovas. “This study emphasizes we have to include sleep as one of the weapons we use to fight heart disease.”
What you can do
First, honestly answer the question “How do you sleep?” Do you struggle to get seven hours or more?
Start by taking our sleepiness quiz, which is a way to gauge your daytime sleepiness. If you have trouble sleeping when you want to, speak to a health professional. You can find a Swedish health care provider and schedule an appointment by consulting our directory. At many Swedish locations, we also have sleep medicine specialists, whom you can find here.
While you want to sleep well, you also want to make sure your heart and arteries are healthy.
If you’d like to know more about atherosclerosis, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has a good explainer page.
Don’t sleep on the opportunity to help keep your arteries healthy. Examine your sleep habits today. And schedule an appointment to see a health care provider to talk about sleep and heart health.
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