Heart health and sleep: Is your doctor asking you how you’re sleeping?
By David Martin, RN, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
This coming weekend between 15,000 and 18,000 people will gather in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park to participate in the Atlanta Heart Walk, a time-honored tradition and wonderful event promoting exercise as a way of helping prevent heart disease. This is important because heart disease is the county’s Number One Killer of women; one in three women will die of heart disease.
A new study out of South Korea this week makes a strong case for all of us to make sure that before we walk – or in addition to our walk – we also get a good night’s rest. And that we make this a daily, or nightly, priority, regardless of age. (This means young adults, too.)
Over the years, Americans have been sleeping less and less. One of last year’s revelations about sleep and brain health was stunning. We learned than during the night, interstitial space in the brain actually increases, allowing for the flow of a brain cleansing substance called glymph. Having a foggy brain suddenly made a lot more sense when we learned that not giving the brain enough time to “clean up” leads to that sense of having a head full of cobwebs.
The study released this week points to the risk of heart disease for people who don’t get enough sleep, don’t get enough good quality sleep, or get too much sleep. There is, apparently, a sweet spot in the number of hours of uninterrupted, good sleep one needs to stay heart-healthy.
Researchers at the Center for Cohort Studies at Kangbuk Samsung Hospital and Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine in Seoul, South Korea studied more than 47,000 young and middle-aged men and women, with the average age being 41. Study participants answered questions about how long and how well they slept, and were then given tests to measure their heart health.
The critical factors in determining heart health? Calcium buildup in arteries of the heart, and whether or not blood flowing through arteries in the upper arm and ankle was slowed by the arteries being “stiff.”
The measure of calcium in the heart told researchers whether or not participants had early signs of coronary lesions. This, and arterial stiffness, are early warnings with regard to who will suffer from heart disease.
So what’s the right amount of time to sleep to avoid calcium buildup in one’s arteries?
Adults who slept fewer than five hours a night had 50 percent more calcium in their coronary arteries than those who slept seven hours.
Sleeping too long resulted in even worse outcomes, as those who slept nine hours or more a night had 70 percent more coronary calcium compared to those who slept seven hours.
The quality of one’s sleep also had an impact: there was 20 percent more calcium built up in the arteries of those who had interrupted sleep verses those who said they had a good night’s sleep.
The results of measuring arterial stiffness in the leg and upper arm mirrored results of the measure of calcium buildup in heart arteries. Dr. Yoosoo Chang, co-lead author of the study says the best heart health was found in adults who slept, on average, about seven hours a night and reported good sleep quality.
Dr. David Meyerson, a Johns Hopkins cardiologist and spokesman for the American Heart Association says these findings are profound. “You wouldn’t imagine that too little sleep, too much, or not sleeping well is going to influence your blood vessels so quickly or so early in life.”
While the study doesn’t prove that the sleep problems cause heart problems, it does raise questions as to the “why” there is an increase in calcium buildup when the amount of sleep or quality of sleep fall out of this seven-hour, high-quality sleep sweet spot.
Meyerson says hormones, metabolic factors produced by sleep, and chemical changes in the body during sleep that can increase blood pressure, factor into our overall health, but that “we just don’t know yet how all the mechanisms really and truly work.”
The big take-away, according to Meyerson?
“These findings should be a heads-up for health care providers and cardiologists to discuss sleep habits with patients when they evaluate cardiovascular risk and overall health status.”
My question? Since patients can control the amount of exercise and sleep they get, perhaps it’s also time for physicians to look at what keeps them from getting the proper amount of sleep and exercise. Is it stress? Other health factors? A crazy schedule? A spouse who snores? Problems with feet and legs?
Whatever the problem, the evidence is irrefutable: exercise and rest are critical to heart – and brain – health. And making time for exercise and rest ultimately means more time – in the long run – for, and with, family and friends. And that’s good cause to take a walk or turn off the lights.
The findings were published in the October issue of the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.