Irregular sleep linked to higher risk of hardened arteries, study finds

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In a study from Vanderbilt University, scientists found that older people with irregular sleep habits may face a higher risk for hardened arteries than their peers with regular bedtimes and hours of sleep.

They found adults 45 and older who fell asleep at different times each night and slept an inconsistent number of hours were more likely to develop atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in artery walls that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Prior research has linked poor sleep habits – including getting too little, too much, or fragmented sleep – with heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular disease conditions.

The American Heart Association recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. The AHA recently added sleep to Life’s Essential 8, its list of recommended behaviors and factors for optimizing heart and brain health.

In this study, researchers analyzed the sleep habits of more than 2,000 men and women, with an average age of 69, who were enrolled between 2010 and 2013.

Participants, who were from six U.S. communities, were free of cardiovascular disease when the sleep ancillary study began.

The participants wore wrist devices that detected when they were awake and when they were sleeping.

They also completed a sleep diary for seven consecutive days and a one-night, in-home sleep study that tracked breathing, sleep stages, heart rate, and sleep interruptions.

Sleep duration was measured by the total amount of time spent in bed fully asleep. Researchers also tracked the time participants fell asleep each night.

The team found that compared to participants with consistent sleep duration, those whose sleep duration varied by more than two hours within the same week were 1.4 times more likely to have high levels of coronary artery calcium, a major contributor to heart attacks and strokes.

They also were 1.12 times more likely to have carotid plaque and nearly two times more likely to have abnormal results from an ankle-brachial index, which compares blood pressure at the ankle and in the arm to test for atherosclerosis and stiffness in the blood vessels.

The team also found participants whose bedtimes varied by more than 90 minutes within the same week were 1.43 times more likely to have high coronary artery calcium, compared to those whose bedtimes varied by 30 minutes or less.

The researchers suggest that maintaining regular sleep schedules and decreasing variability in sleep is an easily adjustable lifestyle behavior that can not only help improve sleep but also help reduce heart disease risk for aging people.

If you care about sleep, please read studies about drugs that can treat sleep loss and insomnia, and Restless sleep may be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease.

For more information about heart health, please read studies about how drinking milk affects the risks of heart disease, and herbal supplements could harm your heart rhythm.

The study was conducted by Kelsie Full et al and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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