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Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
27 Dec

Your Heart is Telling You to Sleep

371257935 de5f31428bA study in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that sleep is an integral ingredient for heart health.

For the study, researchers from the University of Chicago outfitted 495 healthy, middle-aged volunteers with actigraphs, a device worn on the wrist to measure movement and rest.

Accounting for some degree of movement during sleep time – hey, we’ve all been there with the tossing and turning! – the researchers determined that the study participants slept an average of 6 hours per night but spent about seven hours in bed, presumably waiting to fall asleep.

When the researchers compared these sleep readings to the results of computerized tomography, a test done to measure the volume of calcifications in the coronary arteries, they found that those who averaged five or fewer hours of sleep per night had a far higher incidence of “silent” heart disease. Specifically, 27% of those who slept five hours or less per night developed calcifications that can signal heart disease after five years, compared to just 6% of those who slept an average of seven hours or more. In addition, the researchers note that these folding hold true even after accounting for other known other known coronary risk factors, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. The researchers do note, however, that getting even an extra hour of shut-eye per night decreased the estimated odds of coronary calcification by 33 percent.

Although the researchers are not yet sure why too little sleep increases heart disease risk, they suggest that the key here could be stress hormones, a known heart disease risk factor and one of the reasons you might be staying up past your bedtime.

Based on these findings, the study’s lead researcher concludes that the study “does add to mounting evidence that there are subtle but potentially important health consequences of routinely sleeping very short hours – say, less than five hours a night.”

At a time of the year when sleep is, let’s face it, something we’re putting on hold until 2009, it’s important to remember that sleep is not a luxury or an act of the lazy. Instead, it is a necessity and something that you must do for optimal health. This study, for one, suggests the link between hitting the hay and heart health, but other researchers suggest that lack of sleep might also impact hormones such as leptin that help to control appetite, metabolism and body weight (something we’re all conscious of, especially during this time of the year!)

The bottom line? Do yourself a favor and sign up for a little extra shut eye this holiday season – your heart (and likely your waistline) will thank you for the extra effort!

Mayr Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Sleep More to Forget Less

The Benefits of Short Breaks

How to Get that Natural Glow

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. During 9 years of flying, my NUMBER ONE priority has always been 8 hours of sleep. The ability for the mind to function is amazing after a great night of sleep.

    2 months ago, I started taking ZMA and wow, my sleep is now even better, and the dreams are wild!

    Zen Frittata wrote on December 27th, 2008
  2. I don’t know how people survive on 5-6 hours of sleep. I need at least 7-8, and even then, I sometimes sneak in a nap. Sleep is good. Love a good night’s rest!

    Heather McD (Heather Eats Almond Butter) wrote on December 27th, 2008
  3. I think we all could use more sleep. Unfortunately, it’s the first thing we cut back on when busy. A good future post might be on how to have a better, deeper sleep. When I was a kid, I used to sleep like a log. Now, in my 30’s, it’s just not that way. Avoiding sugary foods like soda pop is probably a good start, but there must be other ideas as well. I think I’m going to look into this too. Thanks for the post!

    – Dave

    David at Animal-Kingdom-Workouts wrote on December 27th, 2008
  4. I’ve been getting a lot more sleep since I’ve been off work for the holidays. However, this is something I need to work on when I return to work as I rarely get my 8 hours on work nights.

    Gotta agree with Zen Frittata on the ZMA. I bought some in last September to trial and boy was it easy to sleep when I took it. Plus, I could really notice the improvement in sleep quality when I woke up. I would feel so refreshed and never even reach for the snooze button.

    Tom Parker - Free Fitness Tips wrote on December 28th, 2008
  5. What is ZMA?

    Amy wrote on December 28th, 2008
  6. Hi Amy,

    It’s a supplement containing Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate plus Magnesium Aspartate. It usually comes in capsule form and you take it like you would take a multi-vitamin.

    Hope this helps,

    Tom

    Tom Parker - Free Fitness Tips wrote on December 28th, 2008
  7. Sleep is something that i really enjoy! I sleep so well @ night, i do enjoy taking naps on days when i’m not overloaded with errands to run. I have NO trouble getting sleep.

    Donna wrote on December 29th, 2008
  8. I just wrote a post on this the other day. Not getting enough sleep increases cortisol levels which in turn increases insulin which of course leads to fat storage. Sleep is sooo important.

    Dr Dan wrote on December 30th, 2008
  9. I have been taking lunesta to sleep for 3 years. I don’t want to keep taking this, but if I don’t take it I don’t sleep. I have tried a lot of natural sleep aides and none of them work for me.
    What can you suggest and how much. Thanks

    Pam Chenault wrote on January 7th, 2009
  10. Sleep is what I write about on sleeplessandtired.com. Things that work great are diet of high carbs and medium protein supplemented with high tryptophan containing foods. 5-hydroxytryptophan 100mg an hour and a half before bed is amazing along with a slice of apple pie and ice cream. read more at sleeplessandtired.com

    Ronald Czarnecki wrote on June 17th, 2010

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