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Too Little Or Too Much Sleep May Be Linked to Heart Risks

People who get around seven or eight hours of sleep per night, as opposed to less or more,  have significantly less evidence of stiffness in their arteries, indicating a reduced risk for heart disease or a stroke, according to a new study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together with World Congress of Cardiology.

“The message, based on our findings, is ‘sleep well, but not too well.’ Getting too little sleep appears bad for your health but too much seems to be harmful as well,” said Evangelos Oikonomou, M.D., consultant cardiologist and the study’s lead author.

“Unlike other heart disease risk factors such as age or genetics, sleep habits can be adjusted, and even after taking into consideration the impact of established risk factors for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases — for example age, gender, obesity, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure and even a history of coronary artery disease — both short and long sleeping duration may act as additional risk factors.”

Overall, participants who slept less than six hours or more than eight hours a night had significantly greater odds of having plaque buildup in the walls of their carotid arteries — a 54% and 39% increase, respectively — compared with those who got seven or eight hours of sleep per night. The findings remained after accounting for other known risk factors for heart disease or stroke.

The study adds to mounting evidence that sleep patterns, similar to diet and exercise, may play a defining role in someone’s cardiovascular risk.

For the study, researchers looked at sleep patterns in 1,752 people living in the Corinthia region of Greece using a standard questionnaire that was fielded by a trained cardiologist, primary care provider or nurse.

Participants were then divided into one of four groups based on self-reported sleep duration: normal (seven to eight hours a night), short sleep duration (six to seven hours a night), very short sleep duration (less than six hours a night) or long sleep duration (greater than eight hours a night).

Participants represented a broad spectrum of the general public, including healthy people as well as those with cardiovascular risk factors and established heart disease, and most were from rural areas with less than 1,000 to 2,000 inhabitants. The subjects ranged in age from 40 to 98 years, with a mean age of 64 years old.

At the time of the study, each participant also underwent ultrasound imaging to measure the thickness of the inner part of the arterial wall. Thickening of the arterial walls reflects plaque buildup and is linked to an increased risk of stroke and other cardiovascular events.

Researchers discovered a U-shaped pattern between sleep duration and early indicators of atherosclerosis, which underscores the need for a balanced sleep pattern, Oikonomou said. For example, intima media thickness (a measure of the thickness in the innermost two layers of the wall of an artery) and plaque build-up in the artery walls was greater in both the shorter and longer sleep duration groups as compared to normal sleep duration.

“We don’t fully understand the relationship between sleep and cardiovascular health. It could be that sympathetic nervous system withdrawal or a slowing [of this system] that occurs during sleep may act as a recovery phase for [usual] vascular and cardiac strain,” Oikonomou said. “Moreover, short sleep duration may be associated with increased cardiovascular risk factors — for example, unhealthy diet, stress, being overweight or greater alcohol consumption — whereas longer sleep duration may be associated with a less active lifestyle pattern and lower physical activity.”

The researchers said that achieving a balanced sleep pattern of six to eight hours per night may be optimal.

“It seems that this amount of sleep may act as an additive cardioprotective factor among people living in modern western societies, and there can be other health benefits to getting sufficient and quality sleep,” Oikonomou added.

The study is limited in that it relies on self-reported sleep patterns and is cross sectional in nature, so the relationship between sleep patterns and atherosclerotic activity is based on a single point in time.

Further research is needed, especially to see whether too much sleep is harmful, which hasn’t been studied as thoroughly as getting too little sleep.

Source: American College of Cardiology

Too Little Or Too Much Sleep May Be Linked to Heart Risks

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Too Little Or Too Much Sleep May Be Linked to Heart Risks. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 6, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/03/21/too-little-or-too-much-sleep-may-be-linked-to-heart-risks/155155.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 21 Mar 2020 (Originally: 21 Mar 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 21 Mar 2020
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