Could Your Sleep Habits Affect Your Lipids?

When you think of lifestyle changes to protect your heart health, you may mostly think of eating healthy and exercising, but you may not think of the amount of sleep you get every night.

However, there is some evidence that the amount of quality shut-eye you get at night can contribute to high cholesterol. Read on for more information about this intriguing link and changes you can make to protect your health.

Senior woman sleeping in bed
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How Sleep Affects Your Lipids

Researchers are still exploring the links between getting adequate sleep and cholesterol levels. In some studies, no significant connections between sleep and lipid profiles have been noted, while other studies have found that too little or too much sleep affected HDL ("good" cholesterol), LDL ("bad" cholesterol), and/or triglycerides (fats in the blood).

The effect sleep has on lipids also appears to affect sexes differently. For women, HDL and triglyceride levels appeared to be more affected by sleep duration.

In one study, HDL was lowered by up to 6 mg/dL, and triglyceride levels were increased by up to 30 mg/dL, in women who slept less than six hours or more than eight hours per night. Both of these factors have been connected to increased heart disease risk.

In most of the studies conducted to date in women, however, LDL did not appear to be significantly affected by sleep patterns.

Sleep patterns may have a different effect on men. In the same study, LDL increased by up to 9 mg/dL in men who slept less than six hours. However, triglycerides and HDL cholesterol did not appear to be significantly affected.

Additional evidence suggests that getting too much sleep (greater than eight hours) or too little sleep placed individuals at higher risk of metabolic syndrome—a constellation of signs and symptoms that include lower HDL, obesity, and elevated triglyceride, blood pressure, and glucose levels.

How Sleep and Lifestyle Factors May Affect Lipids

Although there appears to be a connection between sleep and high lipid levels, other sleep-related issues could contribute to high cholesterol, too.

For example, there is a circular relationship between stress and sleep. While high stress can interrupt sleep, loss or lack of sleep can also increase stress levels—and stress has been connected to higher cholesterol. In addition, lack of sleep can lead to overeating and eating unhealthy foods, as well as skipping exercise.

All of these factors may contribute to increasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as the risk of developing heart disease.

In addition, reduced sleep is thought to modify such hormones as leptin and ghrelin, both of which are connected to appetite, food intake, and obesity. It is also thought that less sleep may increase levels of cortisol, which could lead to the inflammation that contributes to heart disease.

How excess sleep could connect to high lipid levels is not fully understood.

Summary

While there is accumulating evidence suggesting a possible link between high lipids and getting too much or too little sleep, more studies are needed to establish a definitive link. Because adverse sleep patterns have also been shown to play a role in causing heart disease and other chronic conditions, getting the appropriate amount of sleep is an important part of following a healthy lifestyle.

A Word from Verywell

If stress, sleep quality issues, or a busy lifestyle are interfering with your nightly rest, consider ways to prioritize getting adequate shut-eye. (Check out apps to help you sleep, for example.) If your sleep still doesn't improve, talk to your doctor. Your heart, and your health, will thank you.

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