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The Link Between Sleep and Heart Health

A recent study on sleep duration is shedding light on heart disease progression. Specifically, researchers examined the association of sleep duration and quality with subclinical atherosclerosis (a measure of plaque formation associated with heart disease risk). They did this using a sample of 3,974 participants ages 40-54 who did not have a sleep disorder. 

Participants who slept less than 6 hours per night had an increased risk (27%) of subclinical atherosclerosis compared to individuals who got 7-8 hours of sleep. Additionally, individuals who woke up frequently during the night had an increased risk (34%) of subclinical atherosclerosis compared to individuals who did not. 

Quality sleep is critical for a healthy immune system. While we sleep, aspects of our immune system rev up, increasing the production of inflammatory proteins called cytokines and helping to enhance our immune cell memory. As we awaken, this inflammatory process recedes and we return to a baseline. 

While the link between inflammation and a lack of sleep isn’t entirely clear, scientists believe that when the regulatory mechanism that controls inflammation is disrupted by poor sleep, levels of inflammation in the body can remain high. Chronic inflammation damages blood vessels and promotes the formation of plaques in the arteries, which in turn increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Go Deeper: If you have stubborn sleep issues, getting a sleep coach might be useful. Click here to take this 2-minute sleep assessment and get a free consultation with sleep expert Mollie McGlockin. For more tips on how to improve your sleep, visit our sleep blog.

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