Lack of Sleep Could Mean Lights out for your Heart

What do you plan to do with that extra hour of sleep this weekend?

sleep deprivation and heart attackThis time of year affects everybody differently, but studies show that gaining an extra hour of sleep can be good for the heart.

In a Swedish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists found a decline in the reported number of heart attacks on the Monday after daylight savings than at any other time of year. In fact, when the clocks go forward in the spring and we lose an hour of sleep, there is a marked spike in the number of heart attacks that following week.

Why is sleep so important to heart health?

It has been found that the premium number of hours of sleep a person needs per night is 7 to 8 hours, yet most Americans are lucky if they get six hours of sleep a night. During sleep, many metabolic functions take place that can only take place during these darkened hours. The body’s circadian rhythms are hard-wired to respond to the earth’s light cycle. We respond to sunrise and sundown by releasing different hormones at different times of the day. For example, melatonin, which induces sleep and relaxation, cannot be produced in the body during daylight hours.

When we deprive ourselves of sleep, our body senses danger and it produces more stress hormones like cortisol. Our body is always on edge, always in alert mode and this places an enormous amount of stress on the body, including elevated levels of inflammation. Diseases such as heart attacks are a direct result of elevated levels of inflammation.

So it’s no exaggeration then, when we say that lack of sleep can shorten your life.

“Modern society has seen a gradual reduction in the average amount of sleep people take and this pattern is more common amongst full-time workers, suggesting that it may be due to societal pressures for longer working hours and more shift-work” – Professor Francesco Cappucio, Leader of the University of Warwick’s Sleep, Health and Society Program

Based on the findings of 1.5 million people in 16 studies, if the link between lack of sleep and death is truly causal, it would equate to over 6.3 million sleep-attributable deaths in the UK in people over 16 years of age.

The results showed that participants who cut their sleeping time from 7 hours (the optimum amount recommended for an adult) to 5 hours or less had a 1.7 times greater mortality risk from all causes, and double the risk of death from cardiovascular causes.

Use this time of year to assess your sleeping patterns and change bad habits like mindlessly watching late-night TV instead of going to bed early. Promise yourself you’ll get more sleep every night and your heart will thank you.