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Sleep trouble can fall to one extreme or another. Some of us find that we get too little sleep, always feeling tired and burning the candle at both ends. Others of us might wonder if we are sleeping too much, finding that a full night is not enough and desire to nap during the day, as well. Researchers have offered some illuminating findings on the right amount of sleep each night. Of course, the decision is specific to the individual, and a consultation with a sleep specialist is the right way to determine the right amount of sleep for you. Still, some general guidelines can be helpful in assessing the right amount of sleep each night, including the central tendencies for all sleepers.
Finding Balance in the Length of Sleep
A recent meta-analysis by Dr Epameinondas Fountas of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre in Athens, Greece helps us understand what the current research on sleep has to say about the right amount of sleep to get each night. With particular attention to the relationship with cardiovascular disease, this study combined 11 different studies for a total of over a million research subjects. Big data in studies like this can help reduce the bias that some researchers bring to the process of discovery. Specifically addressing those without cardiovascular disease in the last five years, this study reminds us that about a third of our lives are spent sleeping. Yet, we know surprisingly little about the sleep-related health effects we experience.
The Short and Long of It
Short sleepers in the study were defined as those who slept less than six hours per night. Long sleepers were defined as those who slept more than eight hours. The middle range of six to eight hours has been understood as a happy medium in terms of the length of sleep, but this study put that assumption to the test. The study found that both short and long sleepers were found to have a greater risk of developing or dying from coronary artery disease or stroke. Long sleeping, however, was a bigger risk factor. Short sleepers had an 11% greater risk of these cardiovascular issues, while long sleepers had a 33% greater risk. With such a greater risk, one might wonder about the causal mechanism between abnormal sleep and health problems.
Meeting in the Middle
Though the relationship between sleep and cardiovascular trouble remains unknown, Dr. Fountas suggested an explanation of the link between them. “Sleep influences biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation—all of which have an impact on cardiovascular disease.” These a surfeit or surplus of sleep may have a negative effect on these other bodily process. Yet, the research may also be pointing to a non-sleep pattern among those studied. Those who experience too little or too much sleep may have other related health problems that cause cardiovascular trouble. One of these possibilities has to do with stress. If stress and anxiety cause too little sleep, they may also be putting undue stress on the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Similarly, depression has been linked to too much sleep. In this case, as well, depression may be the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease rather than the sleep pattern in itself.
With so much unknown about the link between the length of sleep and cardiovascular disease, it is important to pay attention to restful sleep as one element of a healthy lifestyle. The real culprit is not a short night of sleep here and there or a morning sleeping in late. The general, habitual pattern of sleep is the subject of this study, and creating healthy sleep habits can reduce stress on the cardiovascular system. Setting a schedule for sleeping and waking, as well as avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed are ways to get sleep into the healthy range of six to eight hours. Healthy eating and plenty of exercise are unbeatable ways to improve health in general.
Working with a sleep specialist can help diagnose the other elements of your sleep habits that may be leading to too little or too much sleep. Contact us at Sound Sleep Medical for a sleep analysis and consultation about how you can get the right amount of sleep for the sake of your heart and health.