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2019-02-01 / OnCall

Advice to Take to Heart

Why sleeping less than six hours a night may increase your risk of heart disease.


It’s well known that many Americans suffer from poor sleep, and there is plenty of evidence that sleeping poorly can have a bad effect on your health. A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (onlinejacc.org) provides additional evidence that not getting enough sleep or suffering from poor sleep quality may have direct effects on heart health.

Sleep Studies

This new research — based on nearly 4,000 adults monitored during sleep — indicates that people who sleep less than six hours a night may be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The study found that chronic lack of sleep and poor sleep quality raise the odds of fatty plaque accumulation in arteries — a condition known as atherosclerosis. This is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Previous studies have shown that lack of sleep also plays a role in the development of high blood pressure, inflammation and obesity. Not sleeping enough, or in some cases sleeping too much, may lead to the development of diabetes, and sleep apnea (abnormal breathing at night) has been associated with heart rhythm disorders.

There are many ways to fight heart disease, including medications, diet and exercise. This study also illustrates the importance of getting enough high-quality sleep. We should remember that getting enough sleep is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

What’s keeping you awake

Two common reasons people suffer from insomnia include the use of caffeine and alcohol. Many people think alcohol helps you get to sleep, but there’s a rebound effect. If you drink alcohol, you may wake up after a short period of sleep and have a hard time getting back to sleep. And if you do get back to sleep, it often results in poor-quality sleep.
In addition to cutting back on caffeine and alcohol consumption, there are a number of ways to make sure your nighttime routine results in an evening of sound slumber. Try these tips:

Lighten up on evening meals. Finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion.

Exercise early. Exercise helps promote restful sleep if it is done several hours before you go to bed.

Nap early — or not at all. This is because late-day naps decrease sleep drive. If you must nap, it’s better to keep it short and before 5 p.m.

Keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule. Having a regular sleep schedule helps to ensure better quality and consistent sleep.

Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine. Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath, read a book, watch television or practice relaxation exercises.

Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment. A quiet, dark and cool environment can help promote sleep. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades or an eye mask to block light. Keep the temperature comfortably cool — between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Maintain a consistent wake time. Just as you go to bed at the same time each night, try to schedule your sleep so that you also wake up at the same time each day.

Some of these tips will be easier to include in your daily and nightly routine than others. However, if you stick with them, your chances of achieving more restful sleep will improve. And, as this new research suggests, sleeping soundly for at least six hours each night may significantly improve your heart health. In addition to maintaining a sensible diet and regular exercise, be sure to make a good night’s sleep part of your healthy lifestyle.


Christopher Kocher, MD, is a cardiologist with Mount Nittany Physician Group Cardiology.

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