Sleeping too much—or too little—boosts heart attack risk

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Even if you are a non-smoker who exercises and has no genetic predisposition to cardiovascular disease, skimping on sleep—or getting too much of it—can boost your risk of heart attack, according to a new CU Boulder study of nearly a half-million people.

The research, published Sept. 2 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, also found that for those at high genetic risk for heart attack, sleeping between 6 and 9 hours nightly can offset that risk.

“This provides some of the strongest proof yet that sleep duration is a key factor when it comes to heart health, and this holds true for everyone,” said senior author Celine Vetter, an assistant professor of Integrative Physiology.

For the study, Vetter and co-authors at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Manchester analyzed the genetic information, self-reported sleep habits and medical records of 461,000 UK Biobank participants age 40 to 69 who had never had a heart attack, then followed them for seven years.

Compared to those who slept 6 to 9 hours per night, those who slept fewer than six hours were 20% more likely to have a heart attack during the study period. Those who slept more than nine hours were 34% more likely.

When the researchers looked only at people with a genetic predisposition to heart disease, they found that sleeping between six and nine hours nightly cut their risk of having a heart attack by 18%.

“It’s kind of a hopeful message, that regardless of what your inherited risk for heart attack is, sleeping a healthy amount may cut that risk just like eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and other lifestyle approaches can,” said lead author Iyas Daghlas, a medical student at Harvard.

“Just as working out and eating healthy can reduce your risk of heart disease, sleep can too,” said Vetter.

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