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Sleep essential to heart health

June 11, 2009
HEALTH TIPS by Dr. Eve Clute

According to Lawrence Epstein, M.D., medical director of Sleep Health Centers and instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, treating sleep disorders and getting an adequate amount of sleep are necessary for a healthy heart.

“Sleep apnea (SA) is a known risk factor for the development of hypertension, heart disease and stroke,” reported Epstein. Patients with SA commonly complain of daytime sleepiness, because the apnea causes their bodies to stop breathing during sleep and can disturb sleep numerous times.

Sleep apnea — when you stop breathing at night for ten seconds or longer — and snoring can increase the risk of heart disease, according to a Harvard “Sleep Heart Health Study.”

Your heart and lungs have to work that much longer just to circulate your blood, and this takes a toll. This affects men and women equally. The study included nearly 10,000 adults.

Also, chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to change metabolic function in a way that promotes weight gain and diabetes — two risk factors for heart disease.

A new study provides the latest evidence that suggests that the nation’s obesity epidemic is being driven, at least in part, by a corresponding decrease in the average number of hours that Americans are sleeping. The theory is that too little sleep can disrupt hormones that regulate appetite. The study found that people between the ages of 32 and 49 who sleep less than seven hours a night are significantly more likely to be obese.

The large study follows a series of others that have found similar associations with other illnesses, including several reports from the Harvard-run Nurses’ Health Study that linked insufficient or irregular sleep to increased risk for colon cancer, breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Other research groups scattered around the country have subsequently found clues that might explain the associations — indications that sleep disruption affects crucial hormones and proteins that play roles in these diseases.

“Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body,” said Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago. “We have nothing in our biology that allows us to adapt to this behavior.”

Most people need between seven and nine hours, with studies indicating that an increased risk for disease starts to kick in when people get less than six or seven hours of sleep, experts say.

 
 
 

 

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