New research suggests that you need to get at least six hours of sleep every night in order to keep your heart in a healthy condition. The study, which was conducted at the National Centre for Cardiovascular Research in Madrid, looked at almost four thousand Spanish adults with an average age of 46 who were not suffering from any heart conditions at the time of the study. The results suggested that poor sleep quality and getting less than six hours per night can lead to atherosclerosis, which is a condition that occurs when fatty plaque accumulates in the arteries. As a result, this heightens the patient’s risk of suffering from heart attacks, heart disease, and stroke.
Whilst the study was unable to completely prove cause and effect, the findings were significant; participants who slept for under six hours per night were at higher risk of suffering from atherosclerosis than those who slept for longer by more than twenty-five percent.
The Importance of Sleep Quality
In addition to sleep length, researchers also found that the quality of sleep experienced also played a part in atherosclerosis risk. Comparing participants who experienced low-quality sleep to those who had higher quality rest, they were more than 30% more likely to have atherosclerosis. Poor quality sleep often equates to difficulties falling asleep and more frequent wakefulness during the night.
Improving Sleep Hygiene
The first step to reducing your risk of atherosclerosis is changing your sleeping habits for the better. In fact, the study found that participants who practiced good sleep hygiene did not only tend to have better sleep quality but also usually practiced healthy habits in the other areas of their lives, including being involved in regular physical activity and making healthier diet choices.
The Role of Caffeine and Alcohol
The study also found that of those participants who were more likely to experience less, poor-quality sleep, were also more likely to consume higher alcohol and caffeine levels. Alcohol, in particular, can lead to sleep problems. Although many people believe that it can help to induce sleep, this is usually poorer quality and lasts for a shorter period of time. As a result, those who drink alcohol often or drink before going to bed often wake up after a short period and find it difficult to get back to sleep. Even if sleep is achieved, the consumption of alcohol can mean that it is restless and poor quality.
The Role of Temperatures and Seasons
The changing seasons and fluctuating temperatures throughout the year can also have an effect on our sleep habits and quality. During the winter the cold weather leads to artificially heating our home which can affect our ability to fall asleep, whilst darker mornings can cause issues waking up. Conversely, during the summer sleep can suffer due to rising temperatures. Changing your bedding to be in line with the season, such as breathable cotton sheets in summer and a higher tog duvet in the winter can help you be more comfortable at night, leading to better quality sleep.
The Role of Stress
Stress can also be a major contributor when it comes to sleep problems. If you are dealing with a high level of stress and anxiety in your daily life, this can quickly seep into your sleeping habits and cause you to experience sleep problems. A racing mind and difficulty relaxing can quickly make it difficult to fall asleep and experience high-quality rested sleep every night. To combat this issue, you could try relaxation techniques, talking therapy to deal with the root causes of the stress, and getting more regular exercise, which will release ‘feel-good’ hormones in your brain that can help you better manage stress and worry.
The Role of Electronics
Distractions in the form of electronic gadgets in the bedroom can also quickly lead to issues falling asleep and a poorer quality of sleep at night. If you tend to use your smartphone or laptop in bed before falling asleep or watch a lot of TV in the bedroom, the blue light emitted from these devices will slow down your melanin production, making it more difficult for you to drift off. Instead, form healthy habits regarding electronics in the bedroom – keep them to a minimum and make a rule of at least one-hour screen-free before bed.
Leading a Healthier Lifestyle
Many of the habits that improve heart health and strengthen the heart can also help you improve your sleep quality and eliminate regular sleep issues from your life. Making healthy food choices and supplementing your diet with natural and calming supplements, for example, will benefit your heart and help deal with any physical issues that could be leading to poor-quality sleep or insomnia. Exercise is a hugely important habit to develop when it comes to heart health, and studies have found that regular activity is the key to healthy sleep, too.
It’s not just food and exercise that improves your heart health – your sleep habits also have an important part to play.