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How Much Sleep Do You Need for a Healthy Heart?

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Key Takeaways

  • Time spent sleeping can impact heart health.
  • Researchers recommend different sleep durations for different age groups, with longer sleep recommendations for younger children.

Getting a hearty night’s sleep can impact your cardiovascular health.

For the first time, the American Heart Association (AHA) is adding sleep to its list of factors used to quantify cardiovascular health.

The AHA’s review, published in the journal Circulation, shows that sleep has both direct and indirect impacts on heart health. The researchers recommend tailoring how long you sleep to your age in order to avoid severe health consequences.

Age-Based Sleep Recommendations

  • Ages 0 to 1: 12 to 16 hours
  • Ages 1 to 2: 11 to 14 hours
  • Ages 3 to 5: 10 to 13 hours
  • Ages 6 to 12: 9 to 12 hours
  • Ages 13 to 18: 8 to 10 hours
  • Ages 19 and older: 7 to 9 hours

The Older You Get, the Less Sleep You Need

The review looked at health records from more than 23,000 participants ages 2 to 79. Researchers looked at how well self-reported average hours of nightly sleep matched recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). They noticed strong sleep scores correlated with other behaviors necessary for heart health, such as a healthy diet and physical activity.

“That sweet spot—the Goldilocks spot—is seven to nine hours for adults,” Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, FACC, FAHA, chair of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine and co-author of the review, told Verywell. “If you’re over that, it’s not quite as beneficial. And certainly, if you’re sleeping much under seven hours, [you have] more and more health risks.”

In contrast to sleep recommendations for children, which decrease incrementally as children age, the seven to nine hour benchmark appears consistent throughout adulthood, he added.

Does Napping Count?

For children 5 and younger, who may be on a napping schedule already, nap time is included in their 24-hour sleep recommendations, Lloyd-Jones said. Naps are not included in the adults metrics, but power naps can be a good way to get in some extra sleep for adults who cannot meet the seven to nine hour benchmark at night.

How Does Sleep Impact Heart Health?

Nicole Weinberg, MD, cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, told Verywell that lack of sleep or poor sleep can put people at risk for severe heart problems, like heart attacks and stroke. Researches have only recently begun to uncover this connection, and there is more info to dig up, she added.

“Sleep has been this ‘black box’ in cardiovascular data. We haven’t understood it very well over the years,” Weinberg said. “Because of sleep study data, we’re able to see that some people have elevated heart rates while they sleep or decreased oxygen saturations when they’re sleeping. Those things can lead to cardiovascular health problems like elevated blood pressures, or put you at increased risk for heart attack and stroke.”

The review adds sleep into the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Essential 8” list, which outlines lifestyle factors that serve as indicators for cardiovascular health status and potential cardiovascular health risks. The full list includes:

  • Diet
  • Physical activity
  • Nicotine exposure
  • Sleep duration
  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Blood lipids
  • Blood glucose
  • Blood pressure

“We now know from gathering evidence just how central sleep is to so many of those other seven components of cardiovascular health,” Lloyd-Jones said. “But it also has its own independent contributions to heart and brain health.”

Independent sleep data can help researchers predict risks for heart attack, stroke, and general cardiovascular health, he added.

Further, cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death in the United States and globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, getting an appropriate amount of sleep may directly impact your waking experience.

“All those things are really critical, but we’re just starting to get a lot of good objective data about how critical,” Weinberg said.

Quality Counts

Getting in the recommended hours of sleep for your age group could improve your heart health. But if you aren’t sleeping soundly, it can only do so much.

The Circulation review tells “the quantity story,” Lloyd-Jones noted. “Quality of sleep is much harder to measure,” he added.

Sleep quality can be influenced by factors like how many times a person wakes up during the night, if they have a high heart rate or trouble breathing, or whether or not they experience sleep apnea. And sleep quality and sleep duration don’t always follow the same line.

“If you really tease through a lot of the data in sleep studies, it doesn’t mean that a lengthy amount of sleep is always high quality and or a shorter amount of sleep is low quality,” Weinberg said. “People who can sleep well can get their body to relax; they are comfortable sleeping. Those are good global markers of how your body is resting and repairing.”

In a study that evaluated how sleep patterns change as people age, researchers found that the amount of time people spend sleeping decreases until about age 40, and then increases later in life. However, sleep efficiency—a metric the researchers related most closely to quality—declined past age 40.

Importance Of Bedtime Routines

Keeping up with good sleep hygiene can mean keeping up with a consistent daily routine as well. Lloyd-Jones recommends people incorporate physical activity to help tire themselves out during the day. At night, he recommends people avoid caffeine, alcohol, and screen time too close to bed.

How to Get Back on Track If Your Sleep Schedule Is Interrupted

According to Lloyd-Jones, not getting a full night’s sleep every once in a while is normal. An occasional late night or early rise won’t mess up your heart too much.

“Anybody’s going to have one night where things don’t go well,” Lloyd-Jones said. “If you’re missing a night or two a week, you can usually get back on track.”

To get back on track, you don’t necessarily have to log extra hours of sleep to make up for what you missed. Lloyd-Jones said your body may naturally facilitate deeper or higher quality sleep—like more REM sleep—to help you recover in subsequent nights.

However, it’s vital not to let occasional missed bedtimes become routine, Lloyd-Jones said. Because the fewer nights you spend sleeping, the greater your risk for developing heart complications.

“Making time for yourself is very important,” Lloyd-Jones said. “Over the long haul, sleep really will affect your blood pressure, your weight, your risk for diabetes, and ultimately, your heart.”

What This Means For You

Sacrificing sleep can hurt your heart. Doing your best to meet sleep guidelines for your age group can help stave off heart attack and stroke.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lloyd-Jones DM, Ning H, Labarthe D, et al. Status of cardiovascular health in US adults and children using the American Heart Association's new "Life's Essential 8" metrics: prevalence estimates from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2013-2018. Circulation. Published online June 29, 2022. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.122.060911

  2. American Heart Association. Life's essential 8.

  3. World Health Organization. Cardiovascular diseases.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease facts.

  5. Su S, Li X, Xu Y, McCall WV, Wang X. Epidemiology of accelerometer-based sleep parameters in US school-aged children and adults: NHANES 2011-2014. Sci Rep. 2022;12(1):7680. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-11848-8

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a Philly-based reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.