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This Can Increase Your Risk of Heart Attack Dramatically, New Study Finds

It adds to previous evidence that sleep is as important to health as diet.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
Woman having heart attack at home

Both getting too little sleep and getting too much may increase your risk of heart disease, said researchers at the American College of Cardiology's 70th Annual Scientific Session this week.

The study is the first to explore the relationship between sleep and heart health, the scientists said. It suggests that quality sleep is as important to overall health as diet and exercise—a conclusion other studies have suggested for years.

"Sleep is often overlooked as something that may play a role in cardiovascular disease, and it may be among the most cost-effective ways to lower cardiovascular risk," said Kartik Gupta, MD, lead author of the study. "Based on our data, sleeping six to seven hours a night is associated with more favorable heart health." Read on to find out what it is—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID and Didn't Know It.

Groups with less, more sleep had worse results

In the study, researchers analyzed health information from more than 14,000 people who were tracked in the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for a median of 7.5 years. Their average age was 46. Half were women, and 53% were non-white. Less than 10% had a history of cardiovascular disease.

Those researchers divided the respondents into three groups: People who got less than six hours of sleep a night, those who got six to seven hours, and those who had more than seven. They analyzed the participants' risk scores for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) and observed their blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker associated with heart disease.

ASCVD risk score—which accounts for age, gender, race, blood pressure, and cholesterol—is often used to determine how likely someone is to have a heart attack or stroke or die from atherosclerosis in the following decade. (An ASCVD risk score less than 5% is considered low risk.)

The scientists found that the median ASCVD risk among people with less than six, six to seven and more than seven hours of sleep nightly was 4.6%, 3.3% and 3.3%, respectively. And the groups at both ends of the spectrum—people who got both less and more than six to seven hours of sleep a night—had higher levels of CRP, indicating an increased cardiac risk. "Participants who slept less than six hours or more than seven hours had a higher chance of death due to cardiac causes," said Gupta. 

"Participants who sleep less or more than six to seven hours have higher ASCVD risk scores, which is likely driven by heightened inflammation as measured by CRP, which was found to be higher among those who had less or more sleep," he added."The effect of sleep probably accrues over time; it takes time for the damage to happen."

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Pro tip: Talk to your doctor about your sleep

Experts—including the National Sleep Foundation—recommend getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep a night. Sleep problems such as insomnia, poor-quality sleep and sleep apnea have been associated with a increased risk of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and even dementia in previous studies.

To stay healthy, observe your quantity and quality of sleep and talk about it with your doctor. Focus on quality. "It's important to talk about not only the amount of sleep but the depth and quality of sleep, too," said Gupta. "Just because you are lying in bed for seven hours doesn't mean that you are getting good quality sleep." And to protect your health, don't miss these Signs You're Getting One of the "Most Deadly" Cancers.

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