You are what you eat, it is true, but you are also how you sleep. This could be the synthesis of two very recent scientific studies, which show that the duration of sleep and its quality are of vital importance in determining health over the years, reducing or increasing the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, tumors and neurodegeneration. Both researches were presented at the American College of Cardiology's Annual Scientific Session Together With the World Congress of Cardiology, the annual meeting which this year was held in New Orleans on 4-6 March 2023.
Sleeping well adds years to life
The first research we are talking about today was presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology by a team of American scientists from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston (Qian et al, ACC23/WCC, March 4-6 2023, New Orleans). The researchers analyzed data on the health and sleep habits of 172,312 adults, average age 50, who participated in the large National Health Interview Survey between 2013 and 2018. What emerged was that those who had a better quality of sleep also had a lower risk of getting sick. In particular, the researchers indicated five factors to determine whether sleep is of quality. These factors are: sleeping between 7 and 8 hours a night, having difficulty falling asleep no more than twice a week, having interrupted sleep no more than twice a week, not needing sleeping pills, waking up well rested on next day for at least 5 days a week. According to the study, those with all 5 of these factors have a longer life expectancy. In particular, these people have a 21% lower risk of developing a fatal cardiovascular disease, 19% lower risk of dying from cancer and 40% lower risk of dying from various diseases, including neurodegeneration, infections or accidents, than to those who have 0 or 1 favorable factor. Hence the importance of acting now to improve your sleep quality. Even as young people it is important to understand, as the authors of the study themselves underline, that behaviors and their effects accumulate over the years, determining, for better or for worse, what our future health will be like. In short, it's never too late and it's never too early to improve your lifestyle.
Insomnia may increase the risk of heart attack
The second study was also presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology. The authors of the study are Egyptian scientists from the University of Alexandria (Dean et al, ACC23/WCC, March 4-6 2023, New Orleans). The researchers compiled data from 1,184,256 adults, average age 52, based on results from previous studies. Based on the analysis, it was found that those who suffer from insomnia have a 69% higher risk of having a heart attack than those who do not suffer from insomnia. This is because insomnia paves the way for conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.
Suggestions for improving the quality of sleep
Both studies emphasize the importance of ensuring a good restful sleep, which is evaluated not only in terms of hours spent in bed but also in terms of night awakenings, ability to fall asleep in short time and to wake up rested. There are guidelines that can help you improve your sleep quality. First of all, it is important to try to go to sleep at the same time and to dedicate 7 to 8 hours of rest at night. Indeed, previous studies have shown that sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 9 can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (Lucey et al, Brain, 2021). It is also important to make sure that the room is dark, without any sources of light, and cool. It is also important not to have mobile phones or televisions with you where you sleep. Avoid heavy meals and caffeine-rich drinks in the evening. It's also important to keep active throughout the day. There are also natural remedies that favor the falling asleep phase and stimulate deep sleep, the regenerating one. For example, one study showed that the blend of lavender, ylang ylang and bergamot essential oils significantly improves sleep quality (McDonnell et al, J Altern Complement Med, 2019). There are also herbal teas, for example based on valerian, lavender, lemon balm, linden and hops, to be purchased ready-made in chemist's or herbalist's shops. Other help can come from yoga and meditation. Indeed, studies have shown that after 6 months of regular yoga practice it was possible to record an improvement in the quality of sleep in the volunteers involved in the research, including the elderly. In particular, yoga reduced falling asleep time and nocturnal awakenings (Bankar et al, J Ayurveda Integr Med., 2013).