Healthy Sleep Habits Linked to Reduction in Risk for Heart Failure

Quality sleep is tied to improved concentration, reduced stress, improved memory, increased immunity, better moods, and increased productivity. A new study finds that quality sleep may also reduce your risk of heart failure.

Past Research on Sleep

Previous research indicates that people who have insomnia or sleep apnea have a higher risk of heart disease. Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep. Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring and feeling tired even after getting a full night’s sleep.

Current Study

This new study examined the link between healthy sleep habits and heart failure. Heart failure occurs when your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should.

The study used data from over 400,000 individuals in the UK who took part in a long-term health study. The participants answered questions about their sleep habits at the outset of that study. At the time, participants ranged in age from 37 to 73 years old. Based on the number of healthy sleep habits reported, each participant was given a healthy sleep score between zero and five.

Researchers took five sleep habits into account – sleep duration, excessive daytime sleepiness, insomnia, snoring, and whether someone was an early bird or night owl.

Over the span of a decade, 5,221 study participants received a diagnosis of heart failure.

The researchers adjusted for medical conditions, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, and taking medications. They also adjusted for other risk factors of heart failure, such as one’s diet, exercise habits, drinking habits, and smoking.

The researchers discovered that individuals who exhibited the healthiest sleep habits had a 42% reduction in their risk for heart failure in comparison to individuals who had the least healthy sleep habits. More specifically, those who were early risers showed an 8% reduced risk of heart failure. Participants who got seven to eight hours of sleep each night showed a 12% reduction in risk.

Those who did not experience insomnia frequently showed a 17% reduction in heart failure risk. Individuals who did not report any excessive daytime sleepiness showed a 34% decrease in heart failure risk.

Interpretations of the Results

The results of this study published online in the journal Circulation on November 16, 2020 may be interpreted in a number of ways.

For instance, Dr. Roneil Malkani, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago believes the results may reflect the effects of undiagnosed sleep apnea. On the contrary, he recognizes that it is possible that early heart problems could have caused some of the reported sleep-related issues. He asserts that excessive daytime sleepiness could be a sign of worsening heart health. He goes on to say that poor sleep quality, whether it is caused by sleep apnea or getting too little or too much sleep is linked to increased health risks and shorter lifespan.

Dr. Sreenivas Gudimelta, a cardiologist at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital asserts that there may be a link between poor sleep quality and high blood pressure. More specifically, he asserts that it is expected that blood pressure is much lower during sleep than it is during the day. A person’s blood pressure often drops to less than 120/70 during sleep.

Gudimelta asserts that when individuals have sleeping difficulties, their blood pressure remains higher for a longer period of time. This high blood pressure is a strong risk factor for heart problems, such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.

Obesity is another risk factor for heart problems. Poor-quality sleep can lead to unhealthy weight gain, according to Gudimelta. He says getting too little sleep can cause unhealthy weight gain. Some epidemiological studies indicate a link between short sleep duration and excess body weight in groups of people of all ages.

This new study’s results show a reduction of heart failure risk for individuals who have the healthiest sleep habits. Dr. Steven H. Feinsilver, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital located in New York reports that sleep apnea is the most common medical cause of poor sleep. However, not only does sleep apnea cause poor sleep, it is linked to an increased risk for high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

If you experience the symptoms of sleep apnea, including excessive daytime sleepiness and snoring, you should talk to your physician about it. Your physician can help you get set up for a sleep study, which is the diagnostic test for sleep apnea. During a sleep study, you will be hooked up to equipment that measures your lung, heart, and brain function, arm and leg movements, and breathing patterns while you sleep at a sleep center or at home. If you have sleep apnea, it may be managed with a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) or a bilevel positive air pressure (BIPAP) machine.

Getting better quality sleep could help you reduce your risk of heart failure.