Sleep is essential for a healthy heart. People who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease—regardless of age, weight, smoking and exercise habits. Getting enough good quality sleep is important if you want to lower you risk of these conditions.

New Research Suggests Link Between Poor Sleep and Atrial Fibrillation

woman sitting on edge of bedSleep problems including sleeping too little or too long, along with sleep disorders such as breathing irregularities and insomnia may be linked to a variety of factors that may raise the risk for cardiovascular diseases, according to the American Heart Association’s (AHA) first statement on sleep and heart health, published in their journal “Circulation.”

Data presented by researchers from University of California, San Francisco during AHA’s Scientific Sessions 2016 reveal a possible link between disruptions in sleep and the risk of an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation (AF).

Key takeaways from the research include:

  • Disrupted sleep, including insomnia, may be independently associated with atrial fibrillation
  • People who reported frequent night-time awakening had about a 26% higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation compared to those who didn’t wake up a lot; and
  • People diagnosed with insomnia had a 29% higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation compared to those without insomnia.

While it isn’t completely clear why less sleep is detrimental to heart health, researchers do understand that sleeping too little causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation. The same may be true for oversleeping.

One of the reasons sleep is vital to the heart is that patients with sleep apnea (which causes them to wake frequently throughout the night) often have compromised heart health. This is because without long, deep periods of rest, certain chemicals are activated that keep the body from achieving extended periods in which heart rate and blood pressure are lowered. Over time, this can lead to higher blood pressure during the day and a greater chance of cardiovascular problems.

There are a number of studies which highlight the relationship between sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease. One study found that over an eight-year period, men with severe sleep apnea were 58 percent more likely to develop congestive heart failure than men without the breathing disorder. However, it doesn’t take a severe underlying sleep disorder to see effects on the heart; poor sleep (as a result of changing work schedules or inadequate sleep habits, for example) can put you at risk as well.

Heart health is EVERYONE’s Concern

woman with pillow sleeping in cafeteriaRecent research has shown that too little sleep earlier in life could take its toll as well. The evidence suggests that taking care of our hearts from a young age is important as well.

In one study, adolescents who didn’t sleep well were at greater risk for developing cardiovascular problems. The teens presented with higher cholesterol levels, a higher body mass index, larger waist sizes, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of hypertension. It’s easy to see how these alterations in childhood health could snowball into major concerns later on, and why it’s important to protect sleep at every age.