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Can A Regular Sleep Schedule Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease?

Hayley Dawes
1 March 2023

Not getting enough sleep may lead to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Good sleep is important for good health. Adults are recommended 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night. Sleep helps support healthy brain function and important aspects of our metabolism, like controlling appetite and blood sugar. Insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality have been linked to health conditions such as obesity and diabetes and have negative effects on heart health.

If you’re someone who struggles to fall asleep at night and wake up on time in the morning, you likely know how important it is to maintain a consistent sleep cycle: If you don’t rest soundly, you just don’t feel well. But a new study has found that a strict sleep routine does more than just help you feel refreshed – it may also be beneficial for your heart.

Sleep is an essential time for the body to recuperate. During the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep stages, heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, and breathing stabilises. These changes reduce stress on the heart, allowing it to recover from strain that occurs during waking hours.

Disruption Of the Circadian Rhythm

Almost all major cardiovascular functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, vascular tone, and endothelial functions, are regulated by circadian clock genes. Heart rate, blood pressure, and other cardiovascular functions follow circadian patterns.

Disruption or misalignment of circadian rhythms can interrupt these important cardiovascular functions, resulting in the promotion of chronic inflammation, alterations in glucose metabolism, heightened sympathetic nervous system activation, and increase in arterial pressures, all predisposing to the risk of atherosclerosis progression.

Varying your sleep schedule by two or more hours from night to night over the course of a week may increase your risk of plaque build-up in the arteries. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that participants with greater irregularity in their sleep duration were more likely to have hardened arteries and more plaque in their carotid arteries than those with consistent sleep habits did. This suggests that maintaining regular or habitual sleep durations or sleeping close to the same total amount of time each night, may play an important role in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Colin Espie, PhD, a professor of sleep medicine highlights, “As we get older there’s an aging of the circadian clock which results in a shift of our natural sleep rhythms. Our sleep is more fragmented in later life and less deep sleep is normal, as are intermittent wake periods.” When we are asleep, some people are prone to breathing pauses or apneas and this not only fragments sleep but when severe, they can also lead to cardiovascular risk. Furthermore, good sleep is critical for recovery for those who may have experienced a stroke.

Over time, sleep problems can hurt your heart health. 

Sleep apnea

This happens when your airway gets blocked repeatedly during sleep, causing you to stop breathing for short amounts of time. Sleep apnea affects how much oxygen your body gets while you sleep and increases the risk for many health problems, including high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Sleep apnea can be caused by certain health problems, such as obesity and heart failure.


Insomnia is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. Over time, poor sleep can also lead to unhealthy habits that can hurt your heart, including higher stress levels, less motivation to be physically active, and unhealthy food choices.

Without sufficient nightly sleep, a person doesn’t spend enough time in the deep stages of NREM sleep that benefit the heart. The same problem can affect people whose sleep is frequently interrupted.

What is Good Sleep?

Getting enough sleep can be a balancing act. The relationship between the amount of sleep and risk of cardiovascular disease is complex. Both lack of sleep (less than six hours per night) and excess sleep (more than nine hours) have been associated with increased risk.

Sleep is a complex process that progresses through 3 stages, with REM sleep being the goal for restoration of body and mind. Frequently waking up during the middle of the night will disrupt and restart the stages of sleep, resulting in a ‘sleep debt’ that the brain is owed to reach full recovery.

Poor sleep hygiene, such as watching screens in bed, an uncomfortable mattress or environment and common medical problems can disrupt continuous sleep and result in signs of sleep deprivation – feeling slow, depressed, and having low energy. 

*DREEM TIP* Go to bed at the same time every night, remove electronic devices from your sleep area, and make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet.

Lack of Sleep & Health Conditions

Sleep provides time for the body to restore and recharge, playing a key role in nearly all aspects of physical health. For the cardiovascular system, insufficient or fragmented sleep can contribute to problems with blood pressure and heighten the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, and stroke.

Adults who sleep less than 7 hours each night are more likely to say they have had health problems. Some of these health problems raise the risk for heart disease, including:

High blood pressure

During normal sleep, your blood pressure goes down. Having sleep problems means your blood pressure stays higher for a longer period. Raised daytime blood pressure has been identified as a consequence of sleep deprivation – people who work long hours in high-stress jobs and people with other risk factors for hypertension are more likely to have raised blood pressure after chronic poor sleep.

Type 2 diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that causes sugar to build up in your blood, and getting enough good sleep may help people improve blood sugar control.


Lack of sleep can lead to unhealthy weight gain. This is especially true for children and teenagers, who need more sleep than adults. Not getting enough sleep may affect a part of the brain that controls hunger.

Heart rate

Poor sleep, including abrupt awakenings, can generate a sharp uptick in heart rate. Research has also found that people with sleeping problems are more likely to complain of an irregular heartbeat.