Getting at least seven hours sleep a night helps to keep us motivated, energised and happy – but it’s also crucial in protecting heart health, a new study has found.

Most of us have a good idea about what keeps our hearts healthy. We need to eat well (lots of fibre, less saturated fat). Daily exercise is a must (including cardio – does what it says on the tin). It’s best to not smoke, you should drink alcohol in moderation and deal with stress. But you know what else is absolutely key? Sleep.

As well as being essential for concentration, mood and energy, sleep duration is now considered to be an essential component of heart health. That’s why the American Heart Association has just updated its guidelines to include sleeping for seven-to-nine hours alongside diet, exercise and abstaining from smoking when talking about the key elements that go into optimal cardiovascular health.

The AHA published its ‘Life’s Essential 8’ – a revised list of heart factors – in the journal Circulation this week, which for the first time included sleep.

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“The new metric of sleep duration reflects the latest research findings: sleep impacts overall health, and people who have healthier sleep patterns manage health factors such as weight, blood pressure or risk for Type 2 diabetes more effectively,” writes Dr Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association. “In addition, advances in ways to measure sleep, such as with wearable devices, now offer people the ability to reliably and routinely monitor their sleep habits at home.”

Heart disease causes a quarter of all deaths in the UK, with coronary heart disease being the single biggest killer of both men and women worldwide in 2019. So anything we can do to give our pumpers a fighting chance is worth trying.

The full Essential 8 list includes:

  1. Diet: lots of fruit, veg, grains and nuts; less red and processed meats, salt and fizzy pop
  2. Exercise: 150 minutes of moderate activity a week
  3. Nicotine exposure: avoiding vapes, e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes and second-hand smoke
  4. Sleep duration: seven-to-nine hours a night for adults
  5. BMI: although the ASA acknowledges it’s an imperfect metric, it still says that a BMI of 18.5-24.9 are associated with the highest levels of cardiovascular health
  6. Blood lipids: maintaining low cholesterol
  7. Blood glucose: maintaining healthy levels of blood glucose (with or without Type 1 or 2 diabetes/prediabetes)
  8. Blood pressure: maintaining as close to 120/80mm Hg as possible

Stress and social inequality’s impact on heart health

The group also reviewed data on the impact that stress, mental health and health inequality can have on heart health and determined that more research is needed on each before being able to revise the Essential list further.

“Nonetheless, social and structural determinants, as well as psychological health and wellbeing, are critical, foundational factors in an individual’s or a community’s opportunity to preserve and improve cardiovascular health,” Dr Lloyd-Jones remarked. “We must consider and address all of these issues for people to have the opportunity for a full, healthy life as measured by Life’s Essential 8.”

In the meantime, be as fastidious with your sleep as you are with your exercise and plant intake and you should be fine.

Images: Getty

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