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Sleep Duration Is Linked To Cardiovascular Health, Studies Show

Woman Sleeping in Bed
Image by LaylaBird / iStock
October 25, 2022

When you think about activities that actively support your heart health, what comes to mind? Maybe it's a HIIT exercise class or a long run to really "work out" those heart muscles. Or perhaps it's eating clean to prevent plaque buildup in your arteries.

While these are certainly heart-healthy habits, there's another contributor to a healthy (or unhealthy) heart you might be overlooking, according to new research from Columbia University.

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The link between cardiovascular disease and sleep. 

According to an ongoing study of cardiovascular disease and its associated risk factors, sleep habits actually play a role in the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

After measuring the sleep duration and efficiency of around 2,000 adults, researchers showed that the two were correlated and had a combined impact on cardiovascular health.

Nour Makarem, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and lead author of the study, notes that individuals with short sleep duration (less than seven hours each night) had higher chances of the following:

  • Having low sleep efficiency (<85% time in bed after lights off spent sleeping) 
  • Irregular sleep patterns (i.e., variable sleep duration and timing across days)
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness 
  • Sleep apnea
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What's more, short sleepers also had a higher prevalence of overweight/ obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension—displaying a correlation between unhealthy sleep habits and other risks to cardiovascular health.

These findings have led the American Heart Association to add sleep to its Life's Simple 7 list of the seven most important behaviors for heart health. (The other steps are stop smoking, eat better, get active, lose weight, manage blood pressure, control cholesterol, and reduce blood sugar.)

All this to say, tending to your heart health requires more than just getting your heart rate up. Rest is just as important. It's not always easy to get a good night's sleep, but creating healthy wind-down habits is the first step.

If you occasionally struggle to reach around eight hours of quality sleep a night, then starting with a science-backed sleep aid could be worth a shot—here are some of the best ones on the market. If you have a serious sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea, it's best to visit a doctor.

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The takeaway. 

Eating heart-healthy foods and doing cardio are both great ways to encourage a healthy heart—but getting enough sleep is key, as research demonstrates. Getting less than seven hours of sleep raises the risk for other compounding health concerns like type 2 diabetes and hypertension. So all in all, try to prioritize rest as best you can and eliminate sleep disrupters like these six habits to maintain a healthy heart.

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Hannah Frye
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.