Erratic Sleep Habits Tied to Heart Disease

During the summer solstice, when days are at their longest, it can be tempting to stay up later, enjoying the warm night air just a little longer.  But keeping a regular sleep schedule is not only good for brain health and acuity, recent research shows that erratic sleep habits can be an early marker for cardiovascular disease. 

Many adults struggle to maintain a steady sleep schedule despite efforts to practice good sleep hygiene – turning off devices an hour before bed, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and creating a cool, quiet sleep space.   A consistent sleep schedule can help prevent disruption of the natural circadian rhythm – and a new study links irregular sleep with an increased risk for hardened arteries. 

According to a recent New York Time Mind report, new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that sleep irregularity, particularly in duration, was associated with several measures of atherosclerosis.  Because sleep habits are modifiable, researchers are looking at future investigations into reducing cardiovascular risk by targeting sleep habits. 

Using sleep data from 2,000 adults over the age of 45, researchers found that people whose overall sleep varied by two or more hours from night to night throughout the week were more likely to have high levels of calcified fatty plaque buildup in their arteries.  A long-term pattern of erratic sleep, rather than the occasional late night or very early morning, was linked with the increased risk. 

Consistent sleep habits not only help us function better in our daily lives, but other studies have also linked irregular sleep schedules with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, high cholesterol and hypertension.  The American Heart Association added sleep duration recently to its checklist to measure cardiovascular health.  

Habits that Support Good Sleep

  • Create a wind-down ritual to relax at night – a bath, music, meditation, or reading. 
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, heavy meals, or exercise late in the day
  • Spend time outdoors in natural sunlight during the day
  • Stay off devices at night an hour before bedtime
  • Keep a regular wake cycle
  • Maintain a cool, quiet and dark bedroom free from distractions
  • Reward yourself for getting up at a regular time, even on weekends, with a treat – perhaps a great cup of coffee.