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Getting Enough Sleep Might Offset Some Risk Factors for Heart Disease

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Key Takeaways

  • Researchers found that getting quality sleep can counteract some effects of bad lifestyle habits on heart health.
  • Good sleep doesn't completely wipe out the impact of bad heart health habits.
  • Experts stress the importance of sleeping well and following a healthy lifestyle.

For years, research has shown that certain lifestyle habits like smoking and a sedentary lifestyle can hurt your heart health. But new research has found that people who don’t follow optimal heart health rules may be able to somewhat counteract the effects of their lifestyle by getting enough sleep.

The study, which was published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, analyzed data from nearly 400,000 people in the UK Biobank, a biomedical database and research resource, from March 13, 2006 to October 1, 2010. None of the participants had cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.

The researchers assigned each study participant a lifestyle score based on four factors:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Physical activity
  • Diet

They then gave them a sleep score based on things like sleep duration, when they slept, insomnia, snoring, and daytime dozing.

During the study period, 10,218 people developed heart disease. The researchers discovered that those who had poor sleep patterns and bad lifestyle habits had a 25% increased risk of heart disease and a 29% higher risk of a heart attack. That risk was lower in those who had poor lifestyle habits but good sleep patterns. People with better sleep habits were linked to an 18% higher risk of cardiovascular disease and 17% higher risk of a heart attack.

“Our results indicate that adherence to a healthy sleep pattern may attenuate the cardiovascular disease risk associated with an unfavorable lifestyle,” the researchers wrote.

Lu Qi, MD, PhD, study co-author and chair and professor in the department of epidemiology at Tulane University, told Verywell that he and his fellow researchers wanted to see how much of an impact sleep could have on certain lifestyle factors.

"Growing evidence indicates that sleep behaviors may affect health and sleep is tightly related to other lifestyle factors such as dietary intake, physical activity, and obesity,” he said. “We assumed that sleep patterns may modify the relation between other lifestyle factors and health outcomes such as heart disease.

The National Sleep Foundation breaks sleep range recommendations down by ages. Seven to nine hours of sleep a night is recommended for 18- to 64-year-olds and seven to eight hours is recommended for those aged 65 and up.

Why Might Sleep Help Offset Poor Heart Health Choices?

The study didn’t look at why this link exists—it simply found an association.

However, Qi points out that certain poor lifestyle factors can cause an increase in things like LDL (bad) cholesterol, blood pressure, and bodily inflammation. But, he noted, sleep works against those.

“A healthy sleep pattern can lower these metabolic risk factors,” he said. “It is not surprising the adverse relations of smoking, high alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and an unhealthy diet could be attenuated among those with a healthy sleep pattern.”

Paul Natterson, MD, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, told Verywell that “there’s a real impact on vascular health, the health of blood vessels, and inflammation associated with things like tobacco use and inactivity.”

Natterson said there are also “very well established associations” that lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can impact the ability of the heart to function well.

“Poor sleep can have an additional inflammatory impact on blood vessels,” he said, pointing out that the opposite can be true. Meaning, if you get more sleep, you lower your likelihood of having an inflammatory impact on your blood vessels.

What This Means For You

Getting good, regular sleep may help counteract some poor lifestyle habits linked to heart disease risk. However, experts stress the importance of doing your best to follow good heart health habits and follow good sleep habits to lower your risk of heart disease.

Getting Enough Sleep Can’t Wipe Out Bad Habits

Experts stress the importance of not relying on sleep to counteract the impact of bad heart habits. “Even among people with a healthy sleep pattern, the risk of heart disease associated with other unhealthy lifestyle remained, and could not be entirely eliminated,” Li said.

Natterson agrees. “While a good night’s sleep may help you be a little better off than if you had poor sleep habits, you’re not entirely counteracting the impact of an unhealthy lifestyle,” he said. "It's best to try to sleep well and follow healthy lifestyle habits for your heart health."

The American Heart Association has a list of lifestyle and dietary recommendations to help you lower your risk of heart disease. Those include:

  • Use up at least as many calories as you take in
  • Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week
  • Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Stock up on whole grains
  • Eat healthy sources of protein like legumes, nuts, fish, and seafood
  • Focus on minimally processed foods
  • Limit how much added sugar you eat
  • Eat foods with little or no salt
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol from your life
  • Don’t smoke, vape, or use tobacco or nicotine products
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2 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. Song Q, Wang M, Zhou T, et al. The lifestyle-related cardiovascular risk Is modified by sleep patterns. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Published online February 2022. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2021.08.031.

  2. American Heart Association. The American Heart Association diet and lifestyle recommendations.