Sleep duration has decreased 1.5 to 2 hours per night per person in the last 50 years, with several studies showing links between shortened sleep duration and increased risk of heart disease. Sleep is essential for a healthy heart. People who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease—regardless of age, weight, smoking and exercise habits. One study that examined data from 3,000 adults over the age of 45 found that those who slept fewer than six hours per night were about twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as people who slept at least six.
When you sleep, your heart rate slows, and your blood pressure drops. This takes a workload off of the heart which, as a muscle, must recover while on the move. For men, sleeping six hours or less a night increases risk of heart disease by up to 10 percent over 10 years.
Sleeping too little causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation. Rest is vital to the heart, and studies show persons with sleep apnea (which causes them to wake frequently throughout the night) often have compromised heart health. One in five adults suffers from at least mild sleep apnea, and it affects more men than women. This is because without extended, deep periods of rest, certain chemicals are activated that keep the body from achieving extended periods in which heart
rate and blood pressure are lowered. This can lead to higher blood pressure during the day and a greater chance of cardiovascular problems.
Many studies have shown the relationship between sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease. A study found that over an eight-year period, men with severe sleep apnea were 58 percent more likely to develop congestive heart failure than men without the disorder. But it doesn’t take a severe underlying sleep disorder to see effects on the heart. Poor sleeping (as a result of changing employment schedules or poor sleep habits, for example) can put you at risk as well.
Poor sleeping habits aren’t just a concern for older adults. Recent research has shown that too little sleep earlier in life could take its toll as well. For example, in one study, adolescents who didn’t sleep well were at greater risk for developing cardiovascular problems. Those teens had higher cholesterol levels, a higher
body mass index, larger waist sizes, higher blood pressure and an increased risk of hypertension. It’s easy to see how these alterations in childhood health could snowball into major concerns later on and why it’s important to protect your heart from a young age.
Hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease and irregular heartbeats (cardiac arrhythmias) have been
found to be more common among those with sleep issues. Likewise, sleep apnea and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) appear to share some common physiological characteristics, suggesting that sleep apnea may be an important predictor of cardiovascular disease.
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