A lack of sleep can raise the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Now, scientists believe they know why that happens.
People who sleep fewer than seven hours a night have lower levels of three key gene regulators that help maintain cardiovascular health. As the levels of these regulators in the blood drop, the threat of a vascular problem rises.
University of Colorado researchers studied blood samples in a group of men and women between the ages of 44 and 62. Half of them reported sleeping five to seven hours a night. The others slept between seven and eight hours nightly.
The light sleepers had 40% to 60% less of the gene regulators in their blood, compared with those who got more sleep. These gene regulators are known to influence vascular health, inflammation and immune function. In an earlier study, the Colorado researchers found sleeping fewer than six hours a night led to less function in cells that line blood vessels. This means arteries don’t dilate and constrict as they should.
The researchers don’t yet know why seven or eight hours of sleep provides more vascular benefits. They suspect the body may need a minimum amount of sleep to maintain an optimal level of the crucial gene regulators. Their ongoing studies are assessing whether that is indeed the case.
A dearth of sleep is a widespread issue in the U.S. Forty percent of adults get less than the seven to nine hours of rest recommended by the American Heart Association. A 2016 study by the Rand Corporation found that sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy $411 billion a year in reduced productivity.
So, to improve your heart health, know when it’s time to call it a day and hit the hay.