Women sleeping soundly in bed

Sleep and Heart Disease

How sleep can impact heart health

13 January 2023

Many of us are aware of heart disease risk factors such as poor diet and inactivity, but did you know that sleep also plays a major role in heart health?

In fact, it’s considered so vital that the American Heart Association has just added it to its list of essential factors in maintaining a healthy heart. Sleep is now one of Life’s Essential 8, which also includes quitting smoking, controlling cholesterol, and managing blood pressure and blood sugar.

So if you don’t already, it’s probably a good idea to start prioritising your shut eye.

How much sleep should you be getting

Evidence has shown that adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per night to reduce their risk of heart disease.

Unfortunately, almost 60 percent of adult Australians suffer from at least one chronic sleep symptom, including trouble getting to sleep.

The latest evidence on sleep and heart disease

Sleep influences overall health, and poor-quality sleep can increase the risk of heart disease and other chronic health conditions.

A lack of sleep (less than seven hours), or too much sleep (more than nine hours for healthy adults), increases the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

One major study found that women who had less than five hours sleep a night were 32 percent more likely to gain 15kg during a 16-year period. That figure dropped to 12 percent for those sleeping five to six hours.

A study of almost 500 people demonstrated that those who slept poorly were more inclined to eat more food overall and consume fewer whole grains.

These poor food choices could largely be out of our control, as research has shown that a lack of sleep can affect the levels of key hormones which influence how much we eat. A lack of sleep lowers levels of leptin, which tells the brain to stop eating when we are ‘full’, and raises ghrelin which makes you eat more.

Diabetes research suggests that a lack of sleep can also lead to increased insulin resistance and decreased glucose tolerance.

Population-based studies show that individuals with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or insomnia are at significantly greater risk for cardiovascular diseases and cerebrovascular diseases (including arrhythmias, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, heart failure, hypertension and stroke) and metabolic disorders (including obesity, type 2 diabetes and dyslipidaemia).

Tips to sleep better

To ensure you’re getting the right amount of rest for your body, consider your sleep behaviours and routines - also known as sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene includes:

What to do if you’re regularly experiencing poor sleep

Those who regularly experience poor sleep may have conditions such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, which can impact the duration and quality of your sleep and increase your risk of heart disease.

If you are having ongoing difficulties with sleep, you should speak to your doctor for evaluation and treatment options.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years