Older adults with no sleep schedule are nearly twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as those with regular routines, according to a new study (opens in new tab) from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
The study found that adults aged 45-84 years old with an 'irregular' sleep pattern, meaning they have no regular bedtime or wakeup routine and get differing amounts of sleep each night, have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. According to the NHLBI, "maintaining regular sleep patterns could help prevent heart disease just as physical activity, a healthy diet, and other lifestyle measures do."
Research released in October 2019 found that sleeping for less than six hours a day could increase the risk (opens in new tab) of an early death by heart disease or a stroke. The NHLBI's findings add to this by suggesting that it is not just the amount of sleep but the regularity of sleeping patterns which can be responsible for poor heart health and cardiovascular disease. However, there is more work to be done in understanding the relationship between heart health and sleep routines, which plays into the big question, why is sleep important (opens in new tab).
The researchers suspect that multiple factors could be at play, like metabolic changes also associated with obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol, as this can have damaging effects on one's body clock. The study also found that "the association between irregular sleep and CVD appeared stronger among racial/ethnic minority populations, particularly African Americans."
How to improve your sleep routine
The NHLBI study took place over five years and monitored sleep regularity using actigraph devices, worn on the wrist. The actigraphs "resemble smart watches but are designed to specifically measure whether a person is active or at rest, which correlates to wakefulness and sleep."
With recent research finding (opens in new tab) that wearables the could play an increasing role in helping you detect health issues sooner, as well as Apple's recent study (opens in new tab) which uses the Apple Watch (opens in new tab) to track the heart-health of over-65s, smart technology could be pivotal in tracking the long-term importance of sleep routines in older people going forward. For those looking to monitor their sleep, the best smartwatches (opens in new tab) can give you a clear picture of your sleep routine and track it over a prolonged period of time. Some can even remind you when it's time to go to sleep or wake up in the morning, which can help in developing a regular sleeping pattern.
Doctors recommend getting between seven to eight hours of sleep each night. If you're struggling to settle down, you might want to consider investing in the best mattress (opens in new tab) for your sleep style and body type, as well as the best pillow. For help in knowing what to look for, check out our guide to picking the right mattress for you (opens in new tab).
If you struggle to fall asleep within a reasonable timeframe, you may find meditation useful to help you relax enough to feel properly ready for sleep. The best meditation apps (opens in new tab) offer specific sleep meditations and sleep sounds, all designed to put you in an emotionally calm state, ready for nourishing slumber.