Heart attack warning: Getting ‘too little’ or ‘too much’ of this at night could raise risk

Heart attack is a sudden and distressing event. It happens when a blockage in a person’s coronary artery causes part of their heart muscle to be starved of blood and oxygen. It is well understood that sustained high blood pressure and obesity can hike a person’s risk of having a heart attack. A new study adds sheds further light on the relationship between sleep and cardiovascular health.

A new study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that too little or too much sleep can hike a person’s risk of heart attack, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study of nearly a half-million people.

Alarmingly, the study found that this still applies if a person is a non-smoker and has no genetic predisposition to cardiovascular disease.

The research also found that for those at high genetic risk for heart attack, sleeping between six and nine hours nightly can offset that risk.

“This provides some of the strongest proof yet that sleep duration is a key factor when it comes to heart health, and this holds true for everyone,” said senior author Celine Vetter, an assistant professor of Integrative Physiology.

For the study, Vetter and co-authors at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Manchester analyzed the genetic information, self-reported sleep habits and medical records of 461,000 UK Biobank participants age 40 to 69 who had never had a heart attack, then followed them for seven years.

It’s kind of a hopeful message

Iyas Daghlas, lead author

Compared to those who slept six to nine hours per night, those who slept fewer than six hours were 20 per cent more likely to have a heart attack during the study period.

Those who slept more than nine hours were 34 per cent more likely.

When the researchers looked only at people with a genetic predisposition to heart disease, they found that sleeping between six and nine hours nightly cut their risk of having a heart attack by 18 per cent.

“It’s kind of a hopeful message, that regardless of what your inherited risk for heart attack is, sleeping a healthy amount may cut that risk just like eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and other lifestyle approaches can,” said lead author Iyas Daghlas, a medical student at Harvard.

Many factors can influence both heart health and sleep, making it even more difficult to determine cause and effect.

For the new study, the researchers used the massive UK Biobank dataset and combined observational and genetic research to ask the question in a different way.

After taking into account 30 other factors – including body composition, physical activity, socioeconomic status and mental health – they found that sleep duration, in and of itself, influenced heart attack risk independently of these other factors.

The farther people fell outside the six to nine-hour range, the more their risk increased.

For instance, people who slept five hours per night had a 52 per cent higher risk of heart attack than those who slept seven to eight, while those who slept 10 hours nightly were twice as likely to have one.

According to the British Heart Foundation, the more risk factors a person has the higher their risk of having a heart attack.

“The good news is living a healthy lifestyle can help lower your risk and there are lots of small changes you can make,” noted the health body.

The symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling weak or lightheaded, or both
  • An overwhelming feeling of anxiety

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