Not enough sleep just as bad for the heart as over-sleeping

Your sleep duration could be associated with the health of your heart. (Rawpixel pic)

ATHENS: If you’re currently under lockdown and unable to leave the house, you might be tempted to either stay up late binge-watching your favourite show, or spending your time enjoying a long lie-in. However, new research suggests that sleeping too much or too little could be bad for your heart health.

Carried out by researchers in Athens, Greece, the new study looked at 1,752 Greek adults aged 40 to 98 years of age and assessed their sleep patterns using a standard questionnaire.

Based on how much sleep they said they got each night, the participants were then divided into four groups: 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).

The participants also underwent ultrasound imaging to measure the thickness of the inner part of the arterial wall of their heart.

Thickening of these walls indicates a buildup of plaque, which is linked with an increased risk of stroke and other cardiovascular events.

The findings, which were set to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session together with World Congress of Cardiology in March, showed that participants in the normal sleep group, who slept for seven to eight hours a night, appeared to have significantly less plaque buildup in their arteries, compared with people who slept for longer or shorter periods of time.

Those who slept for less than six hours a night had a 54% higher chance of having plaque buildup, compared with those who got seven or eight hours of sleep a night, and those who slept for more than eight hours had a 39% increased risk.

The findings, which also held true after taking into account other known risk factors for heart disease or stroke, suggest that how long we sleep could play a role in our risk of cardiovascular disease.

“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, MD, 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 sleep duration may act as additional risk factors.”

The researchers add that getting into a good sleep habit of six to eight hours of shut-eye per night could be the ideal amount for health.

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