This bad sleep habit may increase heart disease risk

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Despite increasing awareness of how critical sleep is to our health, getting a good night’s rest remains increasingly difficult in a world that’s always “on”—responding to emails at all hours, news cycles that change with every tweet and staring endlessly into the blue light of cell phone, tablet, and computers screens.

Scientists have stressed the importance of healthy sleep habits, recommending at least seven hours each night, and have linked lack of sleep to an increased risk in numerous health conditions, including diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

In a new study, researchers found that whether or not you go to bed on time could also have an effect on your health.

They studied the correlation between bedtime regularity and resting heart rate (RHR).

They found that individuals going to bed even 30 minutes later than their usual bedtime presented a much higher resting heart rate that lasted into the following day.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Notre Dame.

Scientists already know an increase in resting heart rate means an increased risk to heart health.

The team found that even if people get seven hours of sleep a night, if they are not going to bed at the same time each night, not only does their resting heart rate increase while they sleep, it carries over into the next day.

They analyzed data collected via Fitbit from 557 college students over the course of four years. They recorded 255,736 sleep sessions—measuring bedtimes, sleep and resting heart rate.

Big increases in RHR were observed when people went to bed anywhere between one and 30 minutes later than their normal bedtime.

Normal bedtime was defined as the one-hour interval surrounding a person’s median bedtime. The later they went to bed, the higher the increase in RHR. Rates remained elevated into the following day.

Surprisingly, going to bed earlier than one’s standard bedtime also showed signs of increasing RHR, though it depended on just how early.

Going to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual appeared to have little effect while going to bed more than a half-hour earlier strong increased RHR. In cases of earlier bedtimes, however, RHR leveled out during the sleep session.

The team says the body clock, medications, and lifestyle factors all come into play when it comes to healthy sleep habits, but it’s vital to consider consistency as well.

The lead author of the study is Nitesh Chawla, the Frank M. Freimann Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Notre Dame.

The study is published in npj Digital Medicine.

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