Losing sleep anytime can be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, finds a study that stressed on the importance of maintaining a consistent sleep pattern.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, shows that falling asleep at different times or sleeping an inconsistent number of hours each night, even variations of more than two hours a night within the same week, were tied to developing hardened arteries, known as atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is the cholesterol plaque in the walls of arteries, causing obstruction of blood flow.
"Unfortunately, we know that as many as 1 in 3 people do not get their recommended amount of sleep each night," said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, Professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
"Getting a good night's sleep every night is vital to cardiovascular health. Adults should aim for an average of 7-9 hours, and babies and kids need more depending on their age."
According to Lloyd-Jones, the amount of sleep and quality of sleep are important, and both can have significant impacts on cardiovascular health, as well as overall health. In addition to increasing risk for cardiovascular conditions like heart attack and stroke, lack of sleep may also put people at risk of things like depression, cognitive decline, and obesity.
On the other hand, people who get adequate sleep manage other health factors better as well, such as weight, blood sugar and blood pressure, Lloyd-Jones said.
Lloyd-Jones notes that making even small changes in daily habits can make a big difference in sleep quality.
Getting to sleep can be tricky for some people, however, sleep supplements should be used sparingly, and only under the advice of a health care clinician. It's also very important to consider the possibility of a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or insomnia.
These conditions can increase a person's risk of heart disease and stroke and should be treated appropriately to improve the quality and duration of sleep, as well as overall health.
"While it may take a while to make falling asleep and staying asleep a habit, taking the time to develop and then stick with a good, natural bedtime routine is important," Lloyd-Jones said.
"When first starting out, don't lie in bed tossing and turning if you're restless. Get up and try a few things to soothe your mind, maybe write out a to-do list for the next day, read a few pages of a good book or do some yoga stretches.
"Just make one small change at a time, adding a new one every week or so until you find what works best for you. Soon you'll be sleeping soundly through the night and waking up refreshed each morning, knowing you're being good to yourself and to your heart."
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