Individual aspects of poor sleep can be detrimental to heart health. But if you combine them, the risk of heart disease can increase by as much as 141%. That’s the finding of a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The University of South Florida (USF)-led study reviewed sleep data of 6,820 US adults with an average age of 53 who self-reported their sleep characteristics and heart disease history. Among the participants, 633 also wore a research device (actigraphy) around their wrist that captured sleep activity.
Researchers focused on multiple aspects of sleep health, such as regularity, satisfaction, alertness during waking hours, timing of sleep, sleep efficiency, and sleep duration and linked them to physician-diagnosed heart disease. They found that each additional increase in self-reported sleep health problems was associated with a 54% increased risk of heart disease. The estimated risk of heart disease associated with an increase in sleep health problems was much higher for those who provided sleep data by both self-report and the research device. They had a 141% increase.
“These findings show the importance of assessing ‘co-existing sleep health problems’ within an individual to capture the risk of heart disease. This is one of the first studies showing that, among well-functioning adults in midlife, having more sleep health problems may increase the risk of heart disease,” says lead author Soomi Lee, PhD, assistant professor of aging studies and director of the STEALTH lab at USF, in a release. “The higher estimated risk in those who provided both self-report and actigraphy sleep data suggests that measuring sleep health accurately and comprehensively is important to increase the prediction of heart disease.”
The research team asked participants about their health, including if their physician confirmed a heart condition such as arrhythmia, heart murmur, or an enlarged heart. High blood pressure was not considered a diagnosis as it’s labeled a risk factor for heart disease rather than a condition itself. They also controlled for family history, as well as sociodemographic factors, such as race, sex, smoking, depression, and physical activity.
Researchers found that while women reported having more sleep health problems, men were more likely to have heart disease—yet sex did not impact the overall correlation between the two factors. They also found that Black participants had more sleep health problems and a higher prevalence of heart disease than white participants, but the strong association between sleep and heart health did not differ by race in general.
Lee says while sleep health is important for all ages, the team focused on middle adulthood as it spans for a longer period of time and consists of diverse and more stressful life experiences due to work and family roles. This is also when precursors for heart disease and age-related sleep issues begin to arise.
Since sleep health can be modified, researchers say these findings can contribute to future prevention strategies to mitigate the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States.