Sleep should be added to the list of lifestyle behaviors that are critical to good health, such as staying active and eating healthy, according to a recent statement from the American Heart Association.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this paper summarized the latest evidence on sleep and cardiovascular health. Based on a wealth of evidence linking poor sleep patterns to increased risk for heart disease, experts urge health organizations to incorporate sleep into guidelines for optimal health.
Sleep is a major public health concern that is often overlooked, explain authors. According to data from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, an estimated 50–70 million U.S. adults have poor sleep patterns, defined as getting less than 7 hours of sleep or more than 9 hours of sleep a night on a regular basis. Common sleep problems can be due to medical conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea, or simply due to responsibilities at work or home. It’s estimated that 5–15% of the U.S. population has insomnia, while sleep apnea affects up to one-third of U.S. adults. The impact of these conditions on health is striking.
Studies continue to show that sleep apnea and insomnia increase risk for a long list of conditions, ranging from high blood pressure and obesity to heart disease and stroke. For example, an analysis of 23 studies found that getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night was associated with 55% increased risk for obesity. Two recent studies also found that short sleep duration increased risk for diabetes by 30%, while an analysis of seven studies linked less than 7 hours of sleep a night to 48% increased risk for heart disease or heart-related death.
The good news is that experts are starting to recognize the important role that sleep plays when it comes to our health. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recently released a statement that highlights the importance of getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night to promote optimal health. A national health initiative called Healthy People 2020 also released a series of sleep goals, which included increasing the amount of adults that get sufficient sleep.
Of course, experts explain that it will take some work to raise awareness and improve America’s sleep patterns. In their statement, experts argue that getting enough sleep should be added to the list of key steps for preventing heart disease, such as addressing blood pressure, staying active and eating healthy. Authors also encourage better screening for conditions like sleep apnea, which affect roughly one in three American adults. With better education, screening and support, experts hope that more Americans will improve their sleep patterns and reduce risk for heart disease.