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New study looks at link between broken sleep and heart disease, and how to reduce your risk

New study looks at link between broken sleep and heart disease, and how to reduce your risk
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The health benefits of sleep are manifold, from improving your mental wellbeing to helping you feel more energized and productive throughout the day. This month, a new peer-reviewed study published in the PLOS Biology journal suggests there is a link between regular (persistent) broken sleep and the risk of atherosclerosis, a disease of the arteries.

The study involved a multi-ethnic sample group of over 1,600 individuals, and examined the link between how consistently poor sleep raises chronic inflammation throughout the bloodstream, which in turn is linked to higher amounts of plaque inside the arteries. 

  • The results suggest that regularly disrupted sleep can increase your risk of heart disease
  • To reduce the risk, researchers suggest sleeping for seven to nine hours each night

The research team, which included neuroscientists from the Center for Human Sleep Medicine at the University of California, and physicians from the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, examined data from over 1,600 middle-aged and older adults to investigate the effects of atherosclerosis, a disease that, according to the Mayo Clinic, involves a build-up of plaque in the arteries.

By measuring the sleep of participants for one week (sleep was tracked with a combination of wrist-based devices, blood tests and calcium scores to detect plaque build-up), the researchers found that regular broken sleep raises chronic inflammation throughout the bloodstream. This in turn is linked to higher amounts of plaque in the arteries, as well as other health issues such as Alzheimer's. 

Lifestyle changes, including eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise - the World Health Organization recommends 150-minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise a week for adults - are often recommended as treatments for atherosclerosis, though medication and surgery are needed in some cases. 

And now, with studies such as this one shining a light on the importance of good sleep, what we do in the bedroom can also go some way to reducing our risk of heart disease.

So how long should we be sleeping each night to access various health and wellness benefits? Each of us has different needs, but on average the CDC recommends the following:

  • Adults – seven to nine hours a night
  • Teens – eight to ten hours per 24 hours
  • School age children (aged six to 12) – nine to 12 hours per 24 hours
  • Preschool (aged three to five) – ten to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • Toddlers (aged one to two) – 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)

Link between broken sleep and heart disease: How to boost your chances of sleeping better each night

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How to boost your chances of sleeping better each night

There is no one specific way to ensure you’re getting high quality sleep each night. Rather, you may find that mixing a few different techniques and methods helps you snooze better. Here's a few proven methods to get you started...

Breathe deeply
If anxious thoughts are keeping you awake, run through some deep belly breathing exercises before getting into bed or while you’re lying there, staring at the ceiling. Also, try journaling earlier in the evening to get worrisome thoughts out of your head and onto paper. 

We recently spoke to a psychologist about how to manage anxiety with breathing, journaling, CBT and more. To quiet your mind, download one of the best meditation apps, which often come with free seven-day trials.

Massage your body
Pent-up tension in the body is a no-no for good sleep, as tight and tense muscles could cause your discomfort in bed. Experiment with using one of the best handheld massagers to relieve tension and tightness throughout your back, neck and legs. 

Create a sleep regime and stick to it
If your biggest sleep issue is dropping off, the most important step you can take in remedying this is by creating and sticking to a proper sleep regime. This means going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

By doing this, you’re training your brain to know when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. With practice, your brain will automatically fall into this rhythm and you will be able to fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer without effort. 

Exercise outdoors in the morning where possible
Exposure to natural sunlight early in the day (before noon) helps our circadian rhythms stay on track, and helps us maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle, according to the Sleep Foundation. Good cardio and mood-boosting exercises to do in the morning include running, flow yoga and walking.

To keep track of your daily activity, and prompt you to move more, team up with the best fitness trackers for motivation and tracking workouts.

How to turn your bedroom into a sleep haven

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How to turn your bedroom into a sleep haven

The environment within which you sleep is another area to look at. If there’s artificial light streaming in at night, use blackout curtains to ensure your room is dark enough for sleep. Or use a sleep mask, such as the Purple Weighted Sleep Mask, which also uses deep pressure stimulation to relax strained eyes.

In terms of in-bedroom climate, 60-67°F is the ideal room temperature for sleep, according to Sleep.org. That’s because if you’re too hot or too cold, you will wake up. Invest in a smart thermostat and it will automatically take care of this, once it’s learned your specific routine and how hot or cool you like your home.

You may not want to hear this, but experts also recommend banishing as much tech as you can from your bedroom. Of course we love firing up the best TVs for movie night or indulging in some relaxing reading with our trusty tablet, but your bedroom is your sleep haven. Keep your bed for sleeping and sex only so that your brain understands what that space is primarily used for... and how it isn't your make-shift office when working from home.

For more tips on how to create a bedroom geared up for good sleep, read our expert-led guide on how to optimize your bedroom for a more restful night. This could be especially in you are one of the many Americans referred to in a recent survey looking at how lockdown has affected our sleep.