Heart / Lung Our People Research

Sleep: It’s a good prescription for a healthy heart

Daylight Savings Time has come, and an hour of precious sleep has gone.

That loss of even an hour of sleep reminds us that getting a good night’s sleep makes us refreshed and ready to embrace a new day. Yet many of us just can’t get enough of the elusive stuff. The fast pace of our lives, stress at work and family obligations can lead to sleep patterns that are habitually disrupted or don’t let us function at our best.

Take heed, tossers and turners, and sleep-deprived people. A new study published in Nature found that insufficient sleep can increase the risk of serious issues, including cardiovascular disease. In mice, researchers found that sleep protects against the buildup of arterial plaques called atherosclerosis. Insufficient or low quality sleep can increase production of inflammatory white blood cells. They’re known to be a major contributor to atherosclerosis — the hardening or narrowing of the arteries that can lead to heart attacks, strokes and peripheral vascular disease.

“What this study demonstrates is a potential biological link between lack of sleep and the formation of heart diseases,” says Scott Lear, PhD, Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital and Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. “It’s a very thorough study and it corroborates with what we know happens in humans. That interrupted, or lack of, sleep is detrimental to health overall. People with a lack of sleep are more susceptible to a lot of health issues.”

But could there be too much of a good thing? A study by the European Heart Journal pinpoints that too much sleep could also contribute to cardiovascular disease. The researchers, who studied 116,000 people in seven regions of the world, found that people who slept for longer than the recommended duration of six to eight hours a day also had an increased risk of developing diseases of the heart or blood vessels in the brain. 

Dr. Scott Lear

Says Lear, “Sleep is a complex and dynamic process but the bottom line is that the six-to-eight-hour window of recommended sleep is associated with the healthiest outcomes.”

Tips to help get more quality shut-eye

  • Exercise daily
  • Meditate regularly
  • Restrict and limit screen time a couple of hours before bed
  • Wear blue blocker glasses in the last few hours of the day before going to bed to filter out blue light from devices that can disrupt natural sleep patterns
  • Get exposure to natural outdoor light early in the day

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