Better sleep habits may reduce heart disease risk and help lose weight

In two new studies, researchers found that sleeping well, long enough and having regular bedtimes, in addition to meeting the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 guidelines, may help reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases.

Improved sleep patterns may also help people achieve and maintain healthier body weight.

Mounting scientific evidence shows sleep problems are associated with a higher risk of developing obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

One study participants included 1,920 adults, with an average age of 69. Participants from six centers took part in a 7-day sleep exam and were followed for an average of 4 ½ years.

The team suggests that sleep should be added as the eighth metric of heart health to the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 (LS7).

LS7 is used by health care providers to evaluate an individual’s cardiovascular health using seven metrics: tobacco use, body weight, diet, physical activity, cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels.

The study compared the LS7 score, to novel heart health scores that include sleep habits in addition to the already established seven metrics of heart health.

Researchers found that when sleep duration, the simplest and most straightforward measure of sleep, was included as the eighth metric of heart health, the heart health score was more strongly associated with heart disease.

They found those who had the healthiest sleep duration (7-8 hours) during a sleep study, in addition to meeting LS7’s guidelines, were 61% less likely to have a heart disease diagnosis, compared to people who had the poorest scores.

Notably, heart health scores that considered sleep behaviors such as sleeping poorly, sleeping less than seven hours or nine or more hours per night, and/or having irregular sleep duration and bedtimes, as well as sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia, showed the strongest associations with increased heart disease risk.

Those who had healthy sleep behaviors and no sleep disorders in addition to meeting the LS7 had up to 59% lower likelihood of having a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or another cardiovascular event at the time of the sleep study and up to 44% lower risk of developing heart disease 4 ½ years later.

In the second study, the team found that women who went to bed at the same time every day lost about two pounds of body fat over a 6-week period, compared to women who had greater variations in their day-to-day bedtimes, even though both groups of women slept the same amount of time.

The study included 37 women, ages 22 to 46, whose body weight was either normal or overweight but not obese, at the start of the study.

Two weeks before the intervention arm of the study began, the women wore devices on their wrist to measure bedtimes and sleep duration, which ranged from 7 to 9 hours.

Over separate 6-week periods, the women’s sleep duration and bedtimes were compared to the prior 2-weeks. While the number of hours each woman slept did not change, 29 women improved their sleep regularity – adopting a more consistent bedtime.

This decreased bedtime variability was associated with weight loss.

The team says this improvement in body composition occurred without any recommendations for weight loss or tips to change their diet, eating or exercise – all they did was sleep on a more consistent schedule.

The key message is that people should try to go to bed at consistent times every night and wake up at the same time every morning.

Circadian rhythm refers to the 24-hour cycle of when people are awake, asleep, hungry, tired or energetic and is tied to daylight and the darkness of night.

This sleep study is part of an ongoing study on the role of sleep restriction on cardio-metabolic risk factors, such as body weight, insulin resistance, glucose metabolism, and others.

The findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2020.

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