This week, we’re sharing the bottom line at the top of this article because it has the potential to be a catalyst for you to prioritize your health or help someone you care about enhance their health.
Bottom Line: Poor sleep may or may not shorten your life, but it is likely to shorten your number of heart-disease-free days.
We’ve all heard the advice that adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, but there is a lack of evidence-based guidance on sleep quality and timing. Recently, a study aimed to increase our knowledge about the link between sleep quality and disease by estimating the heart disease-free years of life lost due to poor sleep.
The study looked at middle-aged adults and found a link between disturbed sleep and heart disease later in life, compared to healthy sleepers.
Each study participant was given a composite sleep score comprising of:
- Chronotype, or the natural inclination of your body to sleep at a certain time
- Duration of sleep
- Insomnia complaint
- Daytime sleepiness
Since sleep quality is difficult to define, this study assigned a healthy sleep score to participants without insomnia complaints, snoring, and daytime sleepiness.
The study found that poor sleep could convert between 2 and 7 of your late-in-life healthy years into years with heightened risk of heart disease, and even premature death. Compared to participants who were assigned a healthy sleep score, women with sleep-related breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea, were found to have the most risk, losing more than 7 healthy years, while men with sleep-related breathing disorders were found to lose just less than 7 years of heart-disease-free life.
Perhaps the most important finding is that even general poor sleep, such as insufficient sleep, insomnia complaints, snoring, going to bed late, and daytime sleepiness, is associated with a loss of around 2 years of normal heart health in men and women.
When we review the results of studies like this one, it is important to note that even a very strong correlation between poor sleep and heart disease does not definitively mean that poor sleep causes heart disease. Poor sleep can be a symptom of other underlying health issues such as anxiety or obesity, which may actually be contributing to future heart disease. A good example of this is the prevalence of sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea on the Rise
Sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder and is well known to increase the risk of heart disease. Snoring is one of the most obvious symptoms, but with sleep apnea, the snoring is accompanied by pauses where the person stops breathing due to airway collapses or blockage. These pauses, which can last from a few seconds to minutes, are often followed by choking or gasping. These episodes are very disruptive to sleep and can lead to high blood pressure, daytime sleepiness, and other chronic conditions.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) correlates the steep rise in diagnosed sleep apnea with the marked increase in obesity. It also helps that there are now treatments, like CPAP machine and Inspire implants which help regulate breathing.
Cause or Symptom – Get More Restorative Sleep
The takeaway is that snoring and trouble falling asleep or staying asleep can be warning signs of potential health issues in the future. Sleep is very personal, which has led to a lack of evidence-based guidance on how to sleep well. However, there are many ways you can improve your chances for restorative sleep by controlling the temperature and light exposure of your sleep environment, as well as avoiding screens and having a routine to help you prepare for bed. The idea is to find the ones that work for you.