How irregular sleep hardens arteries

In 2010, the American Heart Association debuted “Life’s Simple Seven”™, the seven health-related behaviors we can improve to help achieve the best cardiovascular health possible.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until June of 2022 that sleep habits were added to that list.

Studies had already shown that not sleeping enough and having irregular bedtimes and wake-up times can put your heart at risk.

Now, researchers from major medical centers across the country have used a large body of research to connect poor sleep habits with a health condition that’s a major risk for heart disease and stroke.

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Poor sleep = poor artery health

“This study is one of the first investigations to provide evidence of a connection between irregular sleep duration and irregular sleep timing and atherosclerosis,” says Dr. Kelsie Full, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of epidemiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Dr. Full is lead author of a study by doctors from major universities and teaching hospitals including Johns Hopkins, Brigham and Women’s, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

The study analyzed data from the Multi‐Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), which ran from 2010 to 2013 and included over 2000 adults with an average age of 69. All were free of atherosclerosis.

For three years, participants wore a wrist device that recorded when they were awake and asleep. They also completed a sleep diary. All participants also completed a one-night sleep study at home to detect any possible sleep disorders.

Here are some of the most significant results of the MESA study:

  • Participants whose length of sleep time varied by more than two hours within a week were 1.4 times more likely to have high coronary artery calcium scores (a measure of the amount of calcified plaque in the arteries, which is the main cause of heart attacks and strokes).
  • These same participants were 1.12 times more likely to have plaque in the carotid artery (the major blood vessel supplying blood to the brain).
  • They also were twice as likely to have abnormal results from an ankle-brachial index, which tests for stiffness in the blood vessels by comparing blood pressure at the ankle to blood pressure in the arm.
  • Participants with sleep timing (the time they fell asleep) varying more than 90 minutes within a week were 1.43 times more likely to have high coronary artery calcium scores.

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But what’s the connection?

Dr. Jose Ordovas of Tufts University, who was not involved in the study, explains it this way…

“Our bodies have a natural 24-hour internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, that regulates many physiological processes, including sleep-wake cycles. When we consistently go to bed and wake up at different times, it can disrupt our circadian rhythm and lead to what’s called ‘social jet lag.’

“The authors suggested that disturbance in sleep regularity promotes cardiovascular disease by disturbing the natural circadian rhythm of the body, thereby affecting inflammation, glucose metabolism and sympathetic neurohormonal response. All of these factors are known to cause cardiovascular disease.”

Granted, this study doesn’t prove that poor sleep causes atherosclerosis. But the connection is strong, and there are lots of other reasons you’d want to do a “check-in” with yourself on your sleep habits.

Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, has these suggestions for getting more restful sleep:

Vitamin D is important to maintaining your body’s sleep cycle. It is available from food (fatty fish like salmon and sardines, eggs, and dairy products) or through a supplement. Vitamin D helps the body produce the sleep hormone, melatonin.

Exposure to sunlight. Morning sunlight helps reset your body’s sleep clock and increases the likelihood of a good night’s sleep. Conversely, exposure to artificial light, especially blue light that emits from smartphones and other devices, in the evening can disrupt your body clock making it harder to fall asleep.

Get moving! – Even a brief and easy walk each day will have a positive effect on your sleep. Get your exercise earlier in the day so your body has a chance to calm down for sleep.

Watch those bedtime snacks! Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods 4-6 hours before bed. Try a light bedtime snack like warm milk or a banana.

Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!


Irregular sleeping habits may increase risk of atherosclerosis in older adults — Eureka Alert

Sleep Irregularity and Subclinical Markers of Cardiovascular Disease: The Multi‐Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis — JAMA

Cardiovascular health: Irregular sleeping habits may increase atherosclerosis risk — Medical News Today

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.