Can sleep quality affect cardiovascular risk?

rumpled bedding in the morning light

We all know how miserable it is to drag ourselves through the day when we’ve had a bad night’s sleep. Unrefreshing sleep can leave us lacking in energy, irritable and feeling generally under the weather, but can it also have more significant longer term effects?

Researchers looked at over 385,000 people without documented cardiovascular disease and followed them for over 8 years to see if there was any link between their sleeping habits and their likelihood of developing heart disease or stroke during the follow-up period. To generate a “healthy sleep score” for each patient, the researchers awarded a point for each of the following:

Being a morning person rather than a night owl

Sleeping 7 to 8 hours most nights

Never or rarely having difficulty getting to sleep/not waking in the night

Not snoring

Not dozing off during the daytime

Patients were also genetically tested to put them into high, medium and low risk categories for developing cardiovascular disease, and figures were adjusted to take into account confounding variables which might predispose both to cardiovascular disease and poor sleep, such as age, sex, ethnicity, family history, physical activity levels and smoking status.

The results showed that, irrespective of genetic risk, healthy sleep patterns were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. 21.8% of participants in the study had the healthiest sleep score (5), whilst 2.3% had the worst score (0/1). Compared to those with a score of 0 or 1, people with a score of 5 were 35% less likely to develop heart disease or suffer a stroke. Furthermore the researchers calculated that the risk of of heart disease or stroke was lowered by 8% for every additional healthy sleep score point obtained.

All studies have their limitations and the science behind this one is not perfect, but it certainly implies that regular good quality sleep is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. To read the full study, published in the European Heart Journal, please click here.

If you are struggling with sleep it is always advisable to discuss this with your GP to rule out any underlying conditions which might be contributing, but the NHS also has some useful advice on how to improve sleep hygiene – click here for their page on how to get to sleep and stay there!

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