A lack of sleep puts you at risk for this serious disease

A lack of sleep puts you at risk for this serious disease

Sleep is not a luxury to be enjoyed only if you finish everything on your to-do list.

A new study published recently in the journal of the American College of Cardiology further highlights the risk to your long-term health if you frequently skimp on slumber.

The study looked at nearly 4,000 Spanish men and women, with an average age of 46, who had no history of heart disease. The researchers concluded that when a person gets less than six hours of sleep per night, their risk of the fatty build-up of plaque in the inner linings of the arteries rises. It’s called atherosclerosis.

Participants who typically got less than six hours of sleep, without other risk factors for heart disease, were 27 percent more likely to have plaque throughout the body than those who usually slept seven to eight hours a night. Those who did not get good quality of sleep because they woke up often and tossed and turned frequently, were 34 percent more like to have plaque buildup compared to those who slept well.

Atherosclerosis, also called hardening of the arteries, causes arteries to narrow, weaken and be less flexible, reducing or even blocking the flow of blood and oxygen to the vital organs. That increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and vascular disease.

“Cardiovascular disease is a major global problem, and we are preventing and treating it using several approaches, including pharmaceuticals, physical activity and diet. But this study emphasizes we have to include sleep as one of the weapons we use to fight heart disease – a factor we are compromising every day,” said a senior author of the study, José Ordovás, said in a statement.

“The results of this study are no surprise,” says Dr. Sunil Pauwaa, an advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist with the Advocate Heart Institute at Christ Medical Center. “Lack of sleep has been associated with elevated levels of stress hormones and markers of inflammation. This can lead to an increase in cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and atherosclerosis in the heart and other organs.”

Dr. Pauwaa says while coronary artery plaque formation increases a person’s risk for a heart attack, plaque buildup in arteries leading to the brain heightens the likelihood of a stroke.

“People need to get at least six hours of sleep in addition to practicing other healthy habits such as  eating right and exercising, says Dr. Pauwaa. He adds that lack of sleep is also associated with weight gain, which further increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

It’s important to improve your sleep quality and make sure you are getting enough.  Dr. Yelena Tumashova, a sleep medicine specialist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., recommends the following ideas to improve quality of sleep:

  • Eat a lighter meal in the evening with more complex carbs and protein
  • Avoid eating after dinner
  • Avoid drinking alcohol three or more hours before bed
  • Avoid screen time an hour before bed
  • Get at least 10 minutes a day of aerobic exercise – preferably at least two hours before bed
  • Lower the temperature in the bedroom
  • Set up a bedtime routine to train your body to start relaxing. This could include dimming the lighting, taking a warm bath or shower, doing a yoga practice designed for bedtime, and/or listening to soothing music.

Dr. Pauwaa also cautions that if you have sleep apnea, a condition characterized by a repetitive pattern in which a person briefly stops breathing as the tongue or throat tissue blocks the airway, it can interfere with sleep quality and has been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, heart failure and stroke.

To learn more about sleep apnea and your risks, take an assessment by clicking here.

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About the Author

Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller, health enews contributor, is a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations. She came to Chicago and Advocate Health Care in 2014 after living in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Texas. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking” around Chicago while taking photos for Instagram.