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Mar 28, 2012

The Right Amount of Sleep for Heart Health

Getting more or less sleep than you need can put you at risk for stroke, heart attack and heart disease.

There have been mixed reports about how much sleep we need to keep our hearts healthy. Some evidence shows that too little sleep can have a negative effect, placing extra stress on our hearts and increasing cardiovascular risk. But other studies show that getting too much sleep might not be healthy either, leaving many of us wondering: How much shut-eye is enough? It turns out there is a happy medium, according to a study presented at the recent American College of Cardiology’s 61st Annual Scientific Session.

This study analyzed data collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which asks U.S. households about a broad range of health issues, including sleep and cardiovascular health. With data from more than 3,000 adult respondents, researchers found that adults getting less than six hours of sleep were at greater risk of stroke, heart attack and congestive heart failure, while those getting more than 8 hours of sleep were at increased risk for chest pain (angina) and heart disease.

These findings highlight the importance of sleep to heart health—a connection that is often overlooked in both research and practice. Not only do we need to learn more about that connection, doctors should stress the importance of healthy sleep habits to patients, especially those who are at greater risk for heart disease. Although the amount of sleep that adults need varies from patient to patient, it seems that we should aim for 6-8 hours of quality sleep each night.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I improve my sleeping habits?

  • Some good sleeping habits include sticking to one sleep schedule, creating a bedtime ritual, limiting daytime naps, managing stress and increasing physical activity. Together, these changes can help improve sleep. If not, patients should contact their doctor for further options.
  • Is 6-8 hours of sleep right for everyone?

  • Getting 6–8 hours of sleep each night is a useful guide for most adults, but may not be right for everyone. Some may feel tired with any less than 9 hours of sleep, while others may feel well rested with 6. It is most important to listen to what your body tells you and get the sleep you need to feel well rested and energized in the morning.