Poor Sleep Can Harm Your Heart Health, Too

Poor Sleep Can Harm Your Heart Health, Too
Cardiologist with heart
Cardiologist with heart

Bad news for those who don't catch enough Z's on a nightly basis: Poor sleep increases the likelihood that you'll suffer a heart attack or stroke.

Valery Gafarov, a professor of cardiology at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, shared the findings of his recent study at a medical conference on Monday. The results, he said, highlight how poor sleep should be considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in addition to smoking, inactivity and an unhealthy diet.

The Background
Sleep deprivation currently affects more than one third of both men and women in the United States, contributing to health problems like obesity, diabetes, memory loss and even cancer. And now we have further evidence that heart health is also jeopardized by failing to rest well each day.

The Setup
Gafarov's research, which was a part of the World Health Organization program Multinational Monitoring of Trends and Determinants in Cardiovascular Disease, used a representative sample of 657 men between the ages of 25 and 64 to investigate the relationship between poor sleep and their long-term risk of stroke or heart attack. The study began in 1994, using the Jenkins Sleep Scale to assess participants' sleep quality. The ratings "very bad," "bad," and "poor" were qualifiers for sleep disorders. Gafarov then monitored each subject over the next 14 years, recording any cases of myocardial infarction during that time.

"Until now," he said at the conference, "there has not been a population based cohort study examining the impact of sleep disorders on the development of a heart attack or stroke."

The Findings
Over the course of the study, nearly 63 percent of the participants who experienced a heart attack also reported having a sleep disorder. Men with a sleeping disorder had a heart attack risk that was 2 to 2.6 times higher and a stroke risk that was 1.5 to 4 times higher than those who did not struggle with quality rest between the 5th and 14th year of observation in the study. Gafarov also noted how such sleep disorders tend to be closely associated with feelings of anxiety, depression, hostility and exhaustion.

Gafarov also found that among the men with sleep disorders and an increased risk for heart attack or stroke, many of them were also either divorced, widowed, hadn't completed their high school education, or served as a manual labor worker. These social gradients appeared to carry a higher risk when it came to poor sleep and heart health.

"Sleep is not a trivial issue," he said at the conference. "In our study, it was associated with double the risk of a heart attack and up to four times the risk of stroke. Poor sleep should be considered a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease along with smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet. For most people, good quality sleep is seven to eight hours of rest each night. People who are not sleeping well should speak to their doctor."

Gafarov shared his results at EuroHeartCare 2015, the annual meeting of the Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Allied Professions of the European Society of Cardiology in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on Monday. It's important to note that this research has yet to be published in a peer reviewed journal.

The Takeaway
Sleep isn't just vital for healthy energy levels, weight maintenance and productive days. It keeps your heart healthy, which keeps you living a longer, happier life. When it comes to creating a healthy sleep routine, remember that consistency is key. Make a conscious effort to unplug at least 30 minutes before bed and keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.

Now go catch those Z's in the name of heart health!

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