Can Sleep Help Prevent Heart Disease?

July 08, 2013 3 min read

Getting at least seven hours of sleep a night further lowers the risk of heart disease when combined with other healthy habits--according to a recent research study  done in  in the Netherlands.  The  study looked at how getting enough sleep might supplement the benefit of exercise, eating a nutritious  diet, eliminating smoking, and drinking only small amounts of alcohol...what we view as common sense.

Cool-jams Sleep Remedy
Cool-jams Sleep Remedy

When we think about ways to help prevent heart disease, we usually think of the traditional lifestyle factors which include healthy cholesterol levels and weight. In the past sleep was never included as one of the lifestyle factors. However, this  new study tells us that sleep is something that MD's should indeed discuss with their patients...especially if they are stressed and not getting much of it.  In addition to the normal lifestyle changes often discussed ie a healthy diet, being active, and stopping smoking ...it was found that it is also important to be  disciplined  about your sleep. If these findings can be reproduced in other studies, sleep may be a lifestyle factor included in future guidelines for preventing heart disease. To Sleep, Per Chance to Dream In other studies  researchers have  found that people had an increased risk of heart disease if they did not get seven to eight hours sleep, especially if they woke up feeling tired. However, the effect of adding insufficient sleep on top of traditional heart disease risk factors was unknown.   In the current study, researchers analyzed data from 6672 men and 7967 women who participated in MORGEN, a prospective study of people aged 20–65 years living in the Netherlands who replied to a lifestyle questionnaire in 1994 to 1997. Researchers defined five healthy lifestyle habits, as follows:

  •  Spending 3.5 or more hours a week doing a brisk form of exercise like running, brisk walking, hiking  or biking
  •  A modified Mediterranean diet score of five or higher.
  •  One drink of alcohol or more a month.
  •  Not smoking.
  •  Sleeping seven hours or more a night.
The population was fairly healthy: 52% were sufficiently active, 37% consumed a healthy diet, 91% of men and 78% of women consumed alcohol, 65% were nonsmokers, and 80% of men and 86% of women obtained sufficient sleep. Men and women were equally health conscious: 6% adhered to one or fewer and 12% adhered to all five healthy lifestyle habits. During the 10–14 year follow-up, there were 607 composite CVD events: 129 fatal CVD events, 367 nonfatal MIs, and 111 nonfatal strokes. Each factor on its own reduced the risk of CVD. The reduced risk for composite CVD ranged from 12% lower for following a healthy diet to 43% lower for not smoking; the risk of fatal CVD ranged from 26% lower for being physically active to 43% lower for not smoking. Getting a good night's sleep reduced the risk of composite CVD by 22% (HR 0.78) and fatal CVD by 43% (HR 0.57) compared with having insufficient sleep.

Not surprisingly, compared to people with fewer than two traditional healthy lifestyle habits, those who adhered to four traditional habits had a 57% lower risk of composite CVD and 67% lower risk of fatal CVD. People who added sufficient sleep to these four habits had an even greater benefit: a 65% lower risk of a composite CVD event and an 83% lower risk of fatal CVD.

Other studies have shown that "insufficient sleep is a risk factor for overweight. During the night there are restorative processes, and too little sleep has an impact on blood pressure and BMI," which might explain these findings, Verschuren said. According to the authors, "If all participants adhered to all five healthy lifestyle factors, 36% of composite CVD and 57% of fatal CVD could theoretically be prevented or postponed."The study was published in the  July 2, 2013 issue of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology [1].