BARCELONA, Spain — Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis slashes the risk of heart disease and stroke. Unfortunately, few people are actually getting this, according to a new study. Researchers in France found that a staggering 90 percent of people are generally poor sleepers.
The research suggests that 72 percent of new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke each year may be avoidable with better shut-eye. Cardiovascular disease – which includes heart attacks, heart failure, and angina – is one of the main causes of death and disability worldwide.
“The low prevalence of good sleepers was expected given our busy, 24/7 lives,” says study author Dr. Aboubakari Nambiema of INSERM (the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research), in a media release. “The importance of sleep quality and quantity for heart health should be taught early in life when healthy behaviors become established. Minimizing nighttime noise and stress at work can both help improve sleep.”
How long do ‘optimal’ sleepers stay in bed for?
A total of 7,200 participants, between the ages of 50 and 75, took part in the study. Nearly two-thirds (63%) were men. They were also free of cardiovascular disease at the start of the investigation.
Each participant took part in physical examinations and completed questionnaires. They answered questions about their lifestyle, their personal and family medical history, and history of previous medical conditions. The questionnaire also allowed researchers to gauge each person’s sleeping habits.
The volunteers received an overall sleep quality score based on their tests. Zero or one was considered poor, while five was optimal.
Those classified as optimal sleepers slept around seven to eight hours per night. They also never or rarely had insomnia, didn’t nap much during the day, did not suffer from sleep apnea, and were generally morning people. Overall, only 10 percent were optimal sleepers.
The best sleepers have a 75% lower risk of heart problems
The research team checked for heart disease and stroke every two years for a decade, taking into consideration age, sex, alcohol consumption, occupation, smoking, body mass index, physical activity, cholesterol level, diabetes, and family history of heart attacks, stroke, or sudden cardiac death.
After an average of eight years, each participant had a check-up, where study authors found that 274 participants developed heart disease or suffered a stroke. The study shows that the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke decreased by 22 percent for every one-point change in sleep score, meaning participants with a score of five had a 75-percent lower risk of heart disease or stroke compared to those with a score of zero or one.
After two follow-up checks, 48 percent of participants changed their sleep score, with 25 percent of scores worsening and 23 percent improving.
When the researchers looked at the link between the change in score and their risk of cardiovascular problems, they found that improving by one point reduced a person’s risk of heart disease or stroke by seven percent.
“Our study illustrates the potential for sleeping well to preserve heart health and suggests that improving sleep is linked with lower risks of coronary heart disease and stroke. We also found that the vast majority of people have sleep difficulties. Given that cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death worldwide, greater awareness is needed on the importance of good sleep for maintaining a healthy heart,” Dr. Nambiema concludes.
The researchers are presenting their findings at ESC Congress 2022.
South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.