Lack of sleep may be dangerous for the heart
3rd July 2013
heartScientists claim that getting less than seven hours of sleep per night could lead to fatal heart attacks and cardiovascular disease (CVD), and getting enough sleep could just as beneficial as not smoking with regards to heart problems. The claims come from a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. Researchers in the Netherlands analysed the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and stroke for over 14,000 men and women in their 20s over a 12-year period. There were four lifestyle factors that were identified as being ‘positive’ – engaging in exercise, adhering to a healthy diet, only drinking alcohol in moderation, and not smoking. On top of these four key factors, the team of researchers wondered if sleep was also similarly important. By the end of the study, it was found that the participants who had stuck to all four healthy factors  were actually at a 57% reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease and had a 67% lower risk of death from events such as suffering a heart attack. Interestingly, sufficient sleep was found to boost these figures even more. Researchers discovered that with seven or more hours of sleep each night increased the benefit of these  healthy behaviours; now standing at a 65% lower risk of cardiovascular disease  and 83% lower risk of fatal events from occurring. The researchers state that previous studies have demonstrated a connection between insufficient/poor sleeping habits and cardiovascular disease, however theirs is the first to analyse if sleep – in addition to the other four healthy lifestyle factors – can help to decrease a person’s risk even more. “If all participants adhered to all five healthy lifestyle factors, 36% of composite cardiovascular disease [heart disease or stroke] and 57% of fatal cardiovascular disease could theoretically be prevented or postponed,” say the researchers, from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven, and Wageningen University. They added: “The public health impact of sufficient sleep duration, in addition to the traditional healthy lifestyle factors, could be substantial,” whilst Lead researcher Dr Monique Verschuren commented: “The importance of sleep should now be mentioned as an additional way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.” However, before this study causes panic, Doireann Maddock, of the British Heart Foundation, alleviated worries to some extent and says: “This research shows combining a good night’s sleep with other healthy lifestyle choices can reduce your risk of heart disease. But troubled sleepers should not be alarmed – this study doesn’t mean sleepless nights cause heart disease.”