What a Good Night’s Sleep Can Do for Your Heart

New health guidelines put a spotlight on the link between a good night’s sleep and a healthy heart.

The American Heart Association last month added sleep to its list of factors critical to heart health, a list that includes seven others such as diet, physical activity and blood pressure. The recommendation reflects widening scientific consensus on the role sleep plays in helping prevent heart disease.

“The more we learn, the more we know how instrumental sleep is to heart health,” says Marie-Pierre St-Onge, associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and director of the university’s sleep center.

The heart association recommended adults get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly. Yet many of us are getting less.

More than half of Americans said they had experienced increased sleep disturbances during the pandemic, according to a survey last year commissioned by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. About 57% said they had more trouble falling or staying asleep; 46% slept less at night and 36% said they had more disturbing dreams.

Some scientists now believe that healthy sleep habits can help prevent cardiovascular disease, and that poor sleep can help doctors identify who might be at risk of the condition.

Doctors have long known that sleep influences factors that affect the heart, such as diet and physical activity. You’re more likely to crave junk food when you’re sleep-deprived, and motivating yourself to exercise is harder when you’re tired. Now more research suggests that sleep also has a direct effect on heart health.

If you don’t get enough uninterrupted sleep, you are more at risk of developing hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and obesity, according to Michael Grandner, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and director of its sleep research and behavioral medicine programs, citing several large longitudinal studies.

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