Sleep and heart attacks: What’s the connection?

Sleep and heart attacks: What’s the connection?

If you get plenty of exercise, eat right and manage your stress then you’re the epitome of heart health, right? Not necessarily. You still might be missing one important consideration: sleep.

This important part of everyone’s daily routine is often not prioritized, according to Dr. Arshad Jahangir, a cardiovascular disease physician at Aurora Health Care. At a certain point, your lack of sleep could be considered insomnia. This sleep disorder is characterized by having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or getting good quality sleep, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. It can be short-term, lasting for a few days or weeks, or long-term, lasting for three or more months.

A study evaluated the sleep disorder’s effects on the heart and found that people with insomnia are 70% more likely to have a heart attack.

To conduct their analysis, the researchers reviewed about nine years worth of data from more than 1 million adults. They compared the risk of a heart attack in those who had insomnia with those who did not. After controlling for factors such as age, gender, other health problems and smoking, they found a significant, positive correlation between insomnia and heart attacks for all the groups studied.

Furthermore, the study showed that people who slept five or fewer hours per night were about 50% more likely to experience a heart attack compared to people who slept six to eight hours a night.

Conversely, sleeping too much can have negative effects on the heart as well. In fact, people who slept nine hours had a higher risk of heart attack compared to those who slept only six hours. The study found no difference in the risk of heart attack between people who got five or less hours of sleep compared to nine or more hours of sleep each night.

“People typically need seven to eight hours of good sleep each night so that their body’s defense and regulatory mechanisms can be adequately regulated to maintain long-term health,” says Dr. Jahangir. “The wear and tear that the body goes through during active hours are repaired during sleep, and sufficient, unfragmented sleep is important for these processes to maintain overall well-being. Otherwise, heart and vascular disease can start to creep in with the metabolic dysfunction and adversely affect overall life-expectancy.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of American adults admit they don’t get the recommended amount of sleep.

“Many people may be unaware that sleep plays such a key role in maintaining a healthy heart,” Dr. Jahangir says. “I encourage anyone who is having trouble sleeping to reach out to their providers and get screened for insomnia and for heart disease.”

Want to learn more about your risk for heart disease? Take a free online quiz.

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2 Comments

  1. I have extreme spinal and joint pain. I am unable to stand therefore I’m not able walk or exercise. I have seen 6 doctors in Illinois, Indiana and Florida and none have provided any recommendation to help me. Please advise me.

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About the Author

Julie Walters
Julie Walters

Julie Walters, health enews contributor, is manager of research communications for the public affairs department at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She also serves as production manager for the peer-reviewed Journal of Patient-Centered Research and Reviews. Julie’s background is mostly in multimedia design and project management and has worked in health care for over 15 years. She lives in Milwaukee, Wis., and in her free time enjoys spending time with family, gardening, bargain hunting and getting organized.