Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for 1 out of every 4 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) shows that sleep has a significant impact on heart health and too little sleep can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 35 percent.
“Cardiovascular disease is a major global problem, and we are preventing and treating it using several approaches, including pharmaceuticals, physical activity and diet,” said José M. Ordovás, the senior author of the study. “But this study emphasizes we have to include sleep as one of the weapons we use to fight heart disease–a factor we are compromising every day.”
Previous studies have shown that too little or too much sleep can increase the risk of heart disease and can cause problems with memory, focus, and mood.
For this study, the researchers found similar results and both sleeping too little (less than six hours a night) or too much (over eight hours a night) increased the risk of heart disease, specifically, atherosclerosis which is when plaque builds up in the arteries.
“This is the first study to show that objectively measured sleep is independently associated with atherosclerosis throughout the body, not just in the heart,” said Ordovás.
The researchers also found that quality of sleep, as well as length, influence cardiovascular disease risk.
The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Ordovás and colleagues asked members of the PESA CNIC- Santander Study to take part in the in the new study where overall 3,974 bank employees from Spain were included in the research.
The participants didn’t have a history of heart disease, and the researchers asked the participants to wear an actigraph for seven days to record sleep quality and length. Actigraphs measure activity and movement throughout the wearer’s day.
After the week was up, the researchers split the participants into groups depending on how much sleep they got each night. The researchers also took 3D heart ultrasounds and CT scans of the participants to find any signs of heart disease.
Participants that slept less than six hours were 27 percent more likely to have plaque built up in their arteries. Participants who had poor sleep including trouble staying asleep or waking up in the middle of the night had a 34 percent higher likelihood of atherosclerosis.
Sleeping over eight hours was also linked to an increased risk of heart disease and both caffeine and alcohol disrupted normal sleeping patterns.
The research suggests that sleeping patterns need to be considered as a preventive measure to help guard against heart disease, but more work is needed to see if changing sleep patterns will help reduce the risk of heart disease.