The American Heart Association recently added sleep to its checklist that is used to measure cardiovascular health.
Other health and lifestyle factors in the checklist, which were part of the previous seven-item scoring tool, are nicotine exposure, physical activity, diet, weight, blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure. The checklist – previously called Life’s Simple 7™ – is now called Life’s Essential 8™.
“I agree that good sleep is part of overall cardiac health,” said Stephanie Saucier, MD, FACC, RPVI, a cardiology specialist with Hartford HealthCare’s Heart and Vascular Institute. “Current American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommendations are seven to nine hours a night. One study showed people who sleep six to seven hours a night have the lowest chance of dying from a heart attack or stroke, and this is true when accounting for other risk factors as well.”
Saucier added that individuals who sleep less than six hours or more than nine hours were found to have increased levels of c-reactive protein (CRP), which is an inflammatory marker that has also been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks.
The Heart Association recommendations mirror the Academy of Sleep Medicine guidelines, identifying seven to nine hours of sleep daily for optimal cardiac health for adults, and more for children depending on age.
Quality matters as much as quantity, Saucier noted. “Quality of sleep is important, for example people with sleep apnea are known to have increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” she said. “A study published in 2020 found that irregular sleep duration and timing may also be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. So it is important to work with your doctors to optimize your sleep quality.”
Sleep helpers like “melatonin are OK to take, but other medication-based sleep aids need to be discussed and optimized on an individual basis,” she said.
Saucier said there are things people can do to improve their sleep:
- Have a nighttime routine.
- Have a set time to go to bed and wake up.
- Minimize use of electronics prior to bed as the blue light can make the brain think that you’re supposed to be awake.
- Avoid large fatty meals prior to bed.
- Limit caffeine prior to sleep.
- Make sure your sleeping environment is conducive to sleep (dark, relaxing, quiet).
- Be physically active during the day.