More Evidence Sleep Counts Toward Heart Health

Oct. 21, 2022 – Including how long a person sleeps in a heart health score was able to predict heart disease risk among older adults, results of a new study show. 

The study supports the American Heart Association’s recent decision to make sleep duration “an essential component for ideal heart and brain health.” 

“Sleep seems to be the first thing that people squeeze out of their schedules when they are busy, but making sleep a priority is vital for health and well-being,” says lead author Nour Makarem, PhD, of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City.

The study is the first to show that sleep metrics matter in predicting heart health, she says. 

Makarem and her colleagues studied 1,920 people participating in a large sleep study. The average age was 69, and a bit more than half were women. The researchers used the data to test scores of heart health that included sleep as a measure versus the American Heart Association’s guidelines known as Life’s Simple 7, which does not include sleep as a data point. (The AHA recently added sleep to the guidelines and unveiled the new Life’s Simple 8.)

Over more than 4 years of follow-up, both the heart health score that included the LS7 plus sleep duration alone and the score that included the LS7 and various aspects of sleep health, such as sleep duration, sleep regularity, daytime sleeping, and sleep disorders, were able to predict future heart disease events such as heart attack, bypass surgery, or chest pain.

Study participants who scored highest on the LS7 and various versions of the sleep health scores had up to 80% lower odds of getting heart disease, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. 

Of note, participants with a short sleep duration had higher chances of having low sleep efficiency; that is, less than 85% of the time sleeping in bed after lights off, irregular sleep patterns, excessive daytime sleepiness, and sleep apnea. They also had a higher prevalence of overweight/obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Consistent Patterns

Good sleep hygiene is key for getting enough restful sleep, as well as for heart health, Makarem says. Good sleep hygiene includes setting a sleep schedule, your bedtime routine, and sleep environment for consistent sleeping patterns.

Her tips include:

Stick to a stable sleep schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends, to avoid disrupting your body clock’s sleep-wake rhythm. 

  • Use the hour before bedtime to relax and unwind – for example, by reading or taking a hot bath.  
  • Optimize your sleep environment by making your bedroom comfortable, quiet, cool, and dark. Use heavy curtains or an eye mask to prevent light from interrupting your sleep, and avoid sources of bright light such as computers, TVs, and phones. 
  • Drown out any noise by using earplugs or a white noise machine. 
  • Avoid stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine, particularly close to bedtime.  

“Sleep isn’t your enemy; it’s your friend,” says American Heart Association volunteer expert Michael A. Grandner, PhD, of the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “People often sacrifice sleep to work more, but the data show that the people who are getting more sleep actually get more done at the end of the day because they’re more efficient and they get sick less and get injured less.”

Also, he says, if you think have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor, and get it diagnosed and treated. “No sleep tips in the world are going to fix an untreated sleep disorder.”

“And if you’re in bed and you’re not asleep, get up,” he says. “Laying there awake actually creates the bed as an awake place and programs you to be awake in bed. If you’re in bed and you can’t sleep, don’t make things worse by staying in there.”