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Not Too Much, Not Too Little, Just Right: Sleep and Your Heart

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 your heart benefits from not too much or too little sleep iStockphoto/Thinkstock

How much sleep does your average day afford? Does your sleep meter clock less than six hours a day several times a week, because of the lifestyle you lead? Or perhaps your sleep mileage is more than eight hours a day?

There has always been a correlation between the duration of our sleep and heart health, and if data from new research is to be believed, then too little as well as too much sleep, spells trouble for our heart.

A study was conducted by National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) on more than 3,000 adults over the age of 45 years.

Data emerged after analysis that sleeping under six hours every day increased the person’s risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke by twice as much as those getting adequate sleep. They were 1.6 times more likely of experiencing congestive heart failure.

Similarly, clocking beyond eight hours put the person at twice as much risk of developing angina as an ordinary sleeper and 1.1 times more likely to get coronary artery disease. The findings of the study were presented at the American College of Cardiology's 61st Annual Scientific Session. (1)

According to Rohit R. Arora, MD, FACC, chairman of cardiology and professor of medicine, the Chicago Medical School, and the study's principal investigator, “We now have an indication that sleep can impact heart health, and it should be a priority. Based on these findings, it seems getting six to eight hours of sleep everyday probably confers the least risk for cardiovascular disease over the long term.” (2)

Previous studies have already established a direct link between getting insufficient sleep and the increased risk of developing conditions which are associated with cardiovascular diseases such as glucose intolerance, diabetes and an increase in cortisone levels, blood pressure, resting heart rate and inflammatory markers.

The study entitled "Sleep Patterns and Prevalence of Cardiovascular Outcomes- Analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey" pointed at a few possible discrepancies of the study.

Those sleeping beyond eight hours were being attended to more at clinics as this group came more often with complains of chest pain than those getting under six hours of sleep every day.

Another factor that needed to be looked into and incorporated was that co-morbid conditions such as diabetes mellitus, obesity or hypertension may cause higher risk in those sleeping under six hours.

However, the analysis of the data did take into consideration and made adjustments to covariates such as age, gender, total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein, systolic blood pressure, smoking status, and body mass index.

At this point in the study, the researchers are not sure whether underlying conditions like pulmonary diseases, obesity, diabetes, asthma, etc., in some patients was causing too little sleep, or they were sleeping too little and so had the conditions. More studies need to be done to confirm the cause-effect relationship.

However, as per Arora, “Clinicians need to start asking patients about sleep, especially with those who are already at greater risk for heart disease. It's a really simple thing to assess as part of a physical exam, it doesn't cost anything and it may help encourage patients to adopt better sleep habits. ” (2)


1. Sleeping Too Much or Too Little Can Be Bad for Your Heart; Science Daily News; April 2012; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120326113805.htm

2. Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little Can Be Bad For Your Heart; CardioSource - American College of Cardiology - News and Media; April 2012; http://www.cardiosource.org/News-Media/Media-Center/News-Releases/2012/03/Sleep_CV_Outcomes.aspx?w_nav=Search&WT.oss=too%20much%20or%20too%20little%20sleep%20bad%20for%20health&WT.oss_r=9&

Video of a summary of the study; Interview with Dr. Arora via ScienceDirect – Elsevier at:

1. Too Little Sleep Risky for Heart; Youtube; April 2012; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qeT3LNb6kg&feature=youtu.be

Reviewed May 3, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN

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