A Regular Sleep Schedule May Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease, New Study Says

Varying your sleep schedule by two or more hours from night to night over the course of a week may increase your risk of plaque buildup in the arteries.

Close-up hand of hand stopping alarm clock on the bed in the morning.
Photo: Nitat Termmee / GETTY IMAGES

If you're someone who struggles to fall asleep at night and wake up on time in the morning, you likely know how important it is to maintain a consistent sleep cycle: If you don't rest soundly, you just don't feel well. But a new study has found that a strict sleep routine does more than just help you feel refreshed—it may also be beneficial for your heart.

The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, followed the sleep patterns of 2,032 adults over the age of 45 during a seven day period. They found that participants with greater irregularity in their sleep duration were more likely to have hardened arteries and more plaque in their carotid arteries than those with consistent sleeping habits did.

"These results suggest that maintaining regular or habitual sleep durations, or sleeping close to the same total amount of time each night, may play an important role in preventing cardiovascular disease," lead study author Kelsie Full, PhD, MPH, a behavioral epidemiologist and an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center said in a press release.

Researchers found that people whose overall sleep duration varied by two or more hours from night to night over the course of a week were more likely to have high levels of calcified fatty plaque built up in their arteries. The study authors believe the disruption of the body's circadian rhythm may be the connection between poor sleep and cardiovascular disease.

"Almost all major cardiovascular functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, vascular tone, and endothelial functions, are regulated by circadian clock genes," the research states. Despite these findings, the researchers could not confirm that inconsistent sleep patterns have a direct correlation to heart issues.

Though they couldn't determine a causal relationship between insufficient sleep and cardiac disease in the study, doctors already know that the former impacts the latter to some degree: "Disruption or misalignment of circadian rhythms can interrupt these important cardiovascular functions, resulting in the promotion of chronic inflammation, alterations in glucose metabolism, heightened sympathetic nervous system activation, and increases in arterial pressures, all predisposing to the risk of atherosclerosis progression," the researchers wrote.

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