New research has lead scientists to make a strong case for the timing and duration of your sleep, as they believe it is closely linked to heart-healthy behavior.
Researchers are stating that those who like to stay up late at night should pay close attention to this new study out of the University of Delaware in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, University of Arizona College of Medicine , as well as Drexel University.
Basically, those who went to bed and woke up earlier had better cardiovascular health.
It is a well-known fact that sleep deprivation can lead to obesity and a host of other health concerns; however, this new study shows that when it comes to promoting heart-healthy behavior, it is more about getting quality sleep at optimal times than it is about getting more sleep.
Sleeping at optimal times seems to reduce the kinds of behaviors that lead to poorer heart health, such as living a sedentary lifestyle, having a poor diet, and smoking.
One of the researchers, who is an assistant professor at the University’s College of Health Sciences, stated that there are many who think the physiological function of sleep leads to heart-healthy behaviors. If that is the case, it implies medical practitioners and scientists can modify sleep as a central risk factor, which would give them the ability to help modify some of the bigger risks that lead to cardiovascular disease, such as smoking.
The findings of this study were published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. The three prime culprits to poor heart health are poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and smoking; this study examined how the timing of sleep and the duration of sleep might be linked to these behaviors. It is notable that these three habits are responsible for about 40% of cardiovascular-related deaths in the United Kingdom and the United States.
There is a huge pool of data that the researchers are working with, using information from the UK’s Biobank Resource with a sample of just under 440,000 adults between 40 and 69 years of age.
Short sleep was defined in this study as less than six hours, adequate was at seven to eight hours, and long sleep time was considered nine or more hours. The participants were put into categories based on their self-reported sleep timing and whether they considered themselves a morning person, an evening person, or somewhere in between.
Respondents answered questions about their activity level, their diet (mainly, fruit and vegetable intake), their smoking habits, and how much time they spent sitting at a desk or watching television on any given day.
What was found was those who had either short or long sleep and night owls were more likely to remain sedentary, smoke, and eat a poorer diet than those who had adequate sleep and went to bed at an earlier time.
It is interesting to note that these findings suggest that sleep deprivation is not the only culprit relating to poor heart-healthy behaviors, but that too much sleep can be problematic as well. Health messages are frequently stating that we need more sleep, but this may be simplifying matters too much. In fact, it should be relayed to the public that earlier bedtimes and wake times, along with getting quality sleep were more important.
The AHA (American Health Association) has reported that only about 5% to 10% of people over 18 are meeting the healthy ideal standards of tobacco use, activity level, and diet.
Researchers note that those who are more active tend to have better sleep habits and patterns, and that people who do not get sufficient sleep are likely to be less active. The biggest question for medical practitioners is, how can one be leveraged to improve the other?
There were some limitations to the study, despite the size of the sample. Diversity in the area studied was limited, with 95% of participants being Caucasian. Additionally, data reviewed was self-reported information, which can be biased. Additional research will be needed to find out if promoting good, quality sleep and earlier bedtimes would actually improve heart health. So far, the findings are leaning towards the truth of that hypothesis.
Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.