Sleeping less than six hours a night spells trouble for individuals with increased heart risks, based on a recent study linking a short sleep duration to increased risk of death. Findings were published in the Journal of the American Heart Association and highlight the importance of a healthy night’s sleep, especially for adults with heart disease.
Conducted at the Penn State College of Medicine, this study looked at the association between sleep, heart health and mortality risk. The analysis included 1,654 middle-aged adults who completed overnight sleep studies in the ‘90s and were followed through 2017.
The goal was to explore the impact of sleep duration on survival in adults with increased heart risks, including those with or at risk for heart disease—the leading killer of Americans.
Based on medical history and exams, about half of participants had high blood pressure or diabetes, both of which are known to increase risk for heart disease and heart events. An additional 14 percent were living with heart disease or had a history of stroke at the start of the study.
After analysis, researchers found that getting less than six hours of sleep a night doubled risk of death in participants with high blood pressure or diabetes. Less than six hours of sleep more than tripled risk of death in patients with heart disease or stroke.
Sleep time was recorded during overnight visits in the sleep laboratory, where subjects were monitored for 8 hours to track their sleep patterns. Less than six hours of sleep was defined as a “short sleep duration,” as evidence has linked this cutoff to increased health risks.
When looking at cause of death, researchers found that participants with high blood pressure or diabetes who slept less than six hours had 83% greater risk of heart-related death than those who slept six or more hours a night. A short sleep duration also tripled risk of death from cancer in participants with a history of heart disease or stroke.
While we know that sleep is critical for good health, this study confirms that six hours of sleep may be an important cutoff for health outcomes. Findings also suggest that sleep is especially important in patients with or at risk for heart disease, since they already face increased heart risks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease accounts for one in four deaths each year. Most U.S. adults have at least one risk factor for heart disease like high blood pressure or diabetes. With future research, experts believe that addressing sleep, in addition to things like a healthy diet and exercise, could help millions of Americans live a longer, healthier life.