Bedtime and Our Heart: How Sleep Makes a Difference

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Sleep can make us feel satisfied or silly. Our day can start spectacularly with a full night’s rest or begin badly if we had a hard time dealing with the “doze devil.” Over 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disruption, and many experts say lack of sleep is the most underappreciated health problem today.

Too little sleep can impact daily function, causing loss of focus, increased risk of weight gain, less production at home and work and generally just making us grumpy. Perhaps more importantly, losing sleep can affect our heart.

According to the Center for Disease Control, adults who sleep fewer than seven hours a night are more likely to have health issues including obesity, asthma and depression. It’s no wonder doctors and researchers continue to tell us to get our shut-eye. Lack of sleep affects the processes that keep our heart and blood vessels healthy, making it difficult for the body to heal and repair. Research shows that sleeping fewer than six hours per night, as opposed to seven to eight hours, could increase a person’s risk of atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque builds up inside the arteries.

Bedtime Makes a Difference?
We already know that people who don’t sleep enough are more likely to get cardiovascular disease, but does our bedtime affect our chances as well?

As adults, we may not think about our bedtime very much, but it can be very important for our heart health. A study published late last year in the European Heart Journal – Digital Health reveals that adults should put just as much emphasis on their own sleep cycles as on their kids’.

Researchers found that going to bed between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. local time lowers the risk of developing heart disease compared to any other time of night. People who hit the sack after midnight have a bigger chance of heart-related declines in health. The study also found that that even bedtimes earlier than 10:00 p.m. increased the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults.
From the results of the study, the researchers shared that deviating from the body’s ideal bedtime in the body’s 24-hour cycle can be harmful to our heart health. But why would going to sleep after midnight be the riskiest time of night to hit the hay? The study’s results showed that diminished exposure to morning light disrupts the body clock, or circadian rhythm. This, in turn, can put stress on our cardiac system.

The Data
Statistically, the study says that people who fell asleep after midnight had a 25 percent higher chance of developing heart disease compared to those who went to bed between 10:00 pm and 10:59 pm, which researchers noted as the bedtime sweet spot. Those going to bed between 11:00 p.m. and midnight had a 12 percent greater risk of developing heart issues. Meanwhile, people with a bedtime earlier than 10:00 p.m. also had a 24 percent higher risk for heart problems than those going to bed after 10:00 p.m.

Sleep Timing More Important for Women
When women sleep at wide-ranging times each night, the endocrine system responds to a disruption in circadian rhythm, so the risk of heart health may be more pronounced in women than in men. The experts noted that the gender difference was a “surprising finding” of the research and possibly could be linked to the hormonal impact of menopause or endocrine differences between genders.

Alternatively, researchers also speculate that the older age of study participants could be a perplexing factor since women’s cardiovascular risk increases post-menopause, meaning there may be no measurable difference of the association between women and men. More research is needed, but if findings are confirmed in other studies, sleep timing could become a factor to lowering heart disease.

Back to Basics
To feel rested, most experts agree we should follow the fundamentals: a well-balanced diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep. When it comes to getting our 40 winks, we should take it seriously. Should we adjust our bedtime? Maybe, according to the study, but the CDC offers simple ideas to snooze:

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. Sleep in a dark, quiet place set at a comfortable temperature. Eliminate electronic devices from the bedroom. These can interfere with sleep.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol and large meals before hitting the pillow. Exercise! Physical activity during the day makes it easier to fall asleep that night.

For the best rest ideas, talking with our doctor or healthcare provider can make a world of difference. If you have symptoms of a sleep disorder, a health practitioner specializing in sleep can offer some suggestions for shut-eye, which will keep our heart healthier in the long run, no matter what time we go to bed.

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