Heart problems linked to lack of sleep

This article was posted on ABC News on July 6th, 2012.


Beyond leaving you drowsy and irritable, sleepless nights can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health.

“We know sleep is a critical biological function that influences a wide variety of physiological process,” said Dr. Susan Redline, a sleep specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Sleep deficiency can affect mood and the ability to make memories and learn, but it also affects metabolism, appetite, blood pressure, levels of inflammation in the body and perhaps even the immune response.”

Lack of sleep has been linked to stroke, obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression, and the country’s No. 1 killers: heart disease and cancer. Read on to learn the health hazards of sleep deficiency and how you can sleep better.


A new study of more than 5,600 people found those who slept fewer than six hours a night were more likely to suffer a stroke than their well-rested counterparts.

“We speculate that short sleep duration is a precursor to other traditional stroke risk factors, and once these traditional stroke risk factors are present, then perhaps they become stronger risk factors than sleep duration alone,” Megan Ruiter of the University of Alabama at Birmingham said in a statement.

The study was presented today at the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston, Mass.

Stroke risk is also higher in people who are overweight, diabetic or hypertensive — all conditions linked to poor sleep.

Short and sporadic sleep may also raise the risk of heart disease.

A 2011 study published in the European Heart Journal found people who slept fewer than six hours a night were 48 percent more likely to develop or die from heart disease.

The link could have something to do with levels of inflammation in the body, but the researchers also found higher blood pressure and cholesterol in people with sleep deficiency.

With hectic work and family schedules, getting a good night’s sleep is no easy feat. But experts say a little planning can go a long way, helping you feel refreshed the next morning and for many to come.

“Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and avoid reading anything that’s going to make you excited or worried,” said Dyken. “Try not to exercise or eat a big meal within three hours of your bedtime, but don’t go to bed hungry, either.”

Caffeine and alcohol can also interfere with sleep, according to Redline.

“Much of sleep deficiency is self-inflicted,” she said. “But adults should do their best to get to bed at regular times and aim to have 7.5 hours on average of sleep. Set your schedule such that you honor and respect your sleep needs.”

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