To protect your heart, solve your sleep problems now

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To protect your heart, solve your sleep problems now

Sleep problems including sleeping too little or too long, may be linked to a variety of factors that may raise the risk for cardiovascular diseases, according to new research.

The first statement by the American Heart Association on sleep and heart health outlines what we currently know about sleep irregularities and cardiovascular-related risk factors.

These factors include obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and atherosclerosis, arrhythmias, high blood pressure, stroke, unhealthy levels of triglycerides and cholesterol.

Much of the scientific research about sleep and heart health focuses on insomnia or sleep apnea. Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep, for at least three nights a week for three or more months.

Sleep apnea is diagnosed when someone has an average of five or more pauses in breathing, which can last seconds to minutes, per hour of sleep; the pauses are most commonly due to a narrowed airway.

Evidence linking sleep problems to obesity and diabetes has been studied the most.

In obesity, for instance, studies show sleep influences food intake and could directly impact obesity risk. But the research has been for short periods and longer studies — measuring impact on actual weight — are needed.

Similarly, longer studies could help show whether sleep variations over the course of weeks impact patients’ blood cholesterol, triglycerides, or inflammatory markers.

More and better evidence is also needed to directly link inadequate or poor sleep to diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Sleep research in those areas has largely been observational, establishing a connection but not proving sleep problems cause the conditions.

Researchers said healthcare providers should ask patients about the soundness of their sleep: How long do they sleep? How well? Do they snore?

People who are overweight and snore should be referred to a sleep specialist to check for apnea, while patients with inadequate sleep or insomnia should be counseled on how to improve their sleep and should receive follow-up evaluations.

About 50-70 million U.S. adults regularly don’t get enough sleep or suffer from a sleep disorder, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute estimates.

More and more Americans are reporting sleeping fewer than seven hours, with 29.1 percent of U.S. adults reporting short sleep duration in 2009, compared with 21.6 percent in 1977.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recently advised that adults get at least seven hours of sleep nightly to promote overall health.

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News source: AHA. The content is edited for length and style purposes.
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