Sleep disorders may cause heart problems

accreditation
iStock

Sleep disorders – including too little or too much sleep – may contribute to heart disease risk factors, the American Heart Association said in its first statement on the risks of sleep problems.

Focus on insomnia

But, the heart group stopped short of recommending a certain amount of sleep per night.

"We know that short sleep, usually defined as under seven hours per night, overly long sleep, usually defined as more than nine hours per night, and sleep disorders may increase some cardiovascular risk factors, but we don't know if improving sleep quality reduces those risk factors," Marie-Pierre St-Onge said in a news release from the heart association. St-Onge is an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University in New York City.

At the request of the heart association, St-Onge and her colleagues reviewed research into sleep and heart health.

Read: Your sleeping habits may affect your heart

Much of the research focuses on insomnia. Insomnia is defined as having trouble falling or staying asleep for at least three days a week for three or more months. Another focus of the research has been sleep apnoea. That's a condition that causes a person's breathing to stop momentarily an average of five or more times per hour of sleep.

Additional research needed

Research has also linked sleep problems to obesity and type 2 diabetes, St-Onge said.

"Those are the two main conditions in which there are intervention studies that show that risk factors are increased when sleep is altered," St-Onge said. But more research is needed to better understand the connections, she added.

Also, more research is needed to provide better insight into whether sleep troubles affect cholesterol, triglycerides and signs of inflammation, St-Onge said.

Read: Too much, too little sleep linked to heart woes

Finally, she added, additional research is needed to determine whether poor sleep plays a causal role in type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease and stroke. Research so far hasn't shown a direct link.

St-Onge recommended that medical providers ask patients about the length of their sleep and whether they snore.

A balanced diet

Patients who are overweight and snore should see a sleep specialist, she suggested, and those with general sleep problems should be told how to improve sleep and be tracked over time.

"Patients need to be aware that adequate sleep is important, just as being physically active and eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and fish are important for cardiovascular health," she said.

Read: Too little sleep linked to heart disease risk

"Sleep is another type of ammunition that we can tailor to improve health," St-Onge suggested.

According to the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, about 50 million to 70 million adults in the United States have a sleep disorder or don't get enough sleep on a regular basis.

In 2009, about 29 percent of Americans got less than seven hours of sleep nightly. In 1977, that number was 22 percent, the researchers said.

The American Heart Association statement was published in the journal Circulation.

Read more:

Arrhythmia

Atrial fibrillation

Cardiomyopathy

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes
27% - 9950 votes
No
73% - 26271 votes
Vote