Sleep has been called the "third pillar" of health, in addition to diet and exercise, and recent research is shedding light on just how important sleep is to a healthy lifestyle. A new study has found that getting a good night's rest actually increases the cardiovascular benefits of a healthy diet and physical activity.
A large Dutch population study, published this week in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, found that sleep increases the ability of lifestyle factors -- including a healthy diet, exercise, moderate alcohol consumption and not smoking -- to protect the body against cardiovascular disease.
Practicing these lifestyle habits was associated with a 57 percent lower risk of fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular disease (CVD), and a 67 percent lower chance of fatal events. But for those who also got sufficient rest (at least seven hours a night) in addition to the four healthy lifestyle habits, the heart health benefits were even greater. A healthy lifestyle plus sufficient sleep was linked with a 65 percent lower risk of CVD (fatal and non-fatal) and a 83 percent lower risk of fatal cardiovascular events.
"If all participants adhered to all five healthy lifestyle factors, 36 percent of composite CVD and 57 percent of fatal CVD could theoretically be prevented or postponed," the study's authors write in a press release. "The public health impact of sufficient sleep duration, in addition to the traditional healthy lifestyle factors, could be substantial."
The researchers found that even without the other healthy lifestyle factors, good sleep itself was linked with significant cardiovascular benefits. Proper rest alone lowered the risk of composite CVD by 22 percent, and fatal cardiovascular events by about 43 percent.
"It is always important to confirm results, but the evidence is certainly growing that sleep should be added to our list of CVD risk factors," lead researcher Dr. Monique Verschuren of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, said in the press release.
Getting proper rest -- the CDC recommends seven to nine hours per night for adults -- has been associated with a number of other health benefits, including improved memory, lower levels of inflammation, and healthy weight.