Consistent Sleep Is Essential for Heart Health, Just Like Diet and Exercise


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Key Takeaways

  • Adults need 7-9 hours of good sleep each night to support heart health.
  • New research linked poor sleep with atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque on artery walls.
  • Developing a sleep routine can help support heart health.

Getting seven to nine hours of sleep is essential for adults, but what’s even better is keeping a consistent bedtime schedule every day.

A new study found a link between sleep irregularity and atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque on artery walls that can lead to stroke, heart attack, or kidney disease.

Previous studies on irregular sleep focused primarily on shift workers. A 2022 study found that working night shifts could increase heart disease risk, especially for people who already had high blood pressure. Research has also linked shift work to an increased risk of diabetes and depression, two factors that may also contribute to heart disease.

The new study, published by the Journal of American Heart Association, evaluated data from 2,000 adults over 45 and found results similar to existing research.

“Our results add to growing evidence from recent studies that have connected irregular sleep patterns to cardiovascular risk in the general population,” said Kelsie M. Full, PhD, MPH, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Circadian disruption may help explain why sleep and heart disease risk are associated, according to Full’s research. When the biological clock is thrown off, cardiovascular functions could be negatively impacted which may lead to inflammation or increased arterial pressure she said.

“Almost all cardiovascular functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, and endothelial functions, are controlled by circadian clock genes,” Full said.

The heart is also a muscle that needs rest, according to Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, FAHA, the chair of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University. For most of the sleep cycle, except during REM sleep, your heart rate tends to slow down, allowing the heart a chance to “recharge.”

“If [the sleep cycle] is too short, and if it’s disrupted or irregular, then our heart can’t take full advantage of what rest it does get,” Lloyd-Jones said.

Nour Makarem, PhD

Sleep is the first thing that busy people squeeze out of their schedules. However, the first step to having healthy sleep is recognizing that sleep, alongside diet and physical activity, is one of the three pillars of health.

— Nour Makarem, PhD

Sleep, Diet, and Exercise Are Equally Important for Heart Health

Sleep can have a tremendous impact on heart health because it influences other risk factors like diet and exercise.

“Bad sleep and poor quality diet can be a vicious cycle, whereby poor sleep leads to poor diet and vise versa,” Nour Makarem, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, told Verywell in an email.

While diet and exercise have been associated with heart disease for years, people don’t always prioritize sleep for health.

“Sleep is the first thing that busy people squeeze out of their schedules,” Makarem said. “However, the first step to having healthy sleep is recognizing that sleep, alongside diet and physical activity, is one of the three pillars of health,”

Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but sleep quality and consistency are equally important, Makarem added.

“Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weekdays and weekends to avoid disrupting your body clock’s sleep-wake rhythm,” she said.

Life’s Essential 8

As of June 2022, the American Heart Association recognizes 8 factors for cardiovascular health, known as Life’s Essential 8:

  • Eat better
  • Be more active
  • Quit tobacco
  • Get healthy sleep
  • Maintain weight
  • Control cholesterol
  • Manage blood sugar
  • Manage blood pressure

Put Screens Away for Good Sleep Hygiene

Sticking to a sleep schedule may seem tough, but experts say that developing good sleep hygiene is similar to adopting any healthy habit.

“There are ways to engineer this that can improve sleep and then improve overall heart health,” Lloyd-Jones said.

To start creating this habit, Lloyd-Jones reiterated the importance of getting in bed every night and wake up at the same time every day. You can add in a nap if you have trouble adjusting to this schedule.

“There’s actually some evidence that a short power nap in the afternoon can be restorative as long as it doesn’t disrupt your big sleep at night,” he said.

Exercising early in the day, not eating too close to bedtime, and making your bedroom cool and dark can all support good sleep. Experts also say to put screens away at night because bright lights from phones, TVs, and computers can alter our biological clock, or circadian rhythm, which helps us regulate our sleep.

“People can train the habit of better sleep,” Lloyd-Jones said.

What This Means For You

Sleep is essential for heart health. New research reaffirms that a consistent sleep schedule is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

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. Full KM, Huang T, Shah NA, et al. Sleep irregularity and subclinical markers of cardiovascular disease: the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosisJ Am Heart Assoc. 2023;12(4):e027361. doi:10.1161/JAHA.122.027361

  2. Yang L, Luo Y, He L, et al. Shift work and the risk of cardiometabolic multimorbidity among patients with hypertension: a prospective cohort study of UK BiobankJ Am Heart Assoc. 2022;11(17):e025936. doi:10.1161/JAHA.122.025936

  3. American Heart Association. How does depression affect the heart?

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How does sleep affect your heart health?

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tips for better sleep.