The Benefits of a Consistent Nightly Sleep Schedule
Do you like sleeping in on the weekends? Many of us look forward to staying under the covers on our Saturdays and Sundays, especially after a late night or a long week. The extra shuteye helps us recover from missed sleep during the week.
Or so we think. Unfortunately, this kind of inconsistent sleep pattern has consequences for our health – from our relationships to our diet, and, perhaps most importantly, our heart. And trying to catch up on the weekends doesn’t seem to help.
According to a new study published in February, sleep irregularity and atherosclerosis are linked. Atherosclerosis is a condition where plaque, cholesterol, fats and other substances, build up along the arterial walls. This plaque can reduce the flow of oxygen to critical organs, ultimately leading to a heart attack or stroke.
How can your sleep patterns affect your arteries?
First, let’s discuss the benefits of good sleep habits. Our bodies remain busy, even while we sleep.
A number of things happen to our body throughout the night:
- Our heart and respiration rates change
- Our metabolism slows down, conserving energy
- Blood pressure rises and falls
- Hormones release to help repair cells and restore energy
- The brain stores new information and rids itself of toxins
- Even nerve cells get busy, talking to each other and reorganizing to support healthy brain functions.
These processes support many of the functions our bodies handle on a daily basis-- from helping repair muscles to supporting our emotional health. Good sleep also can improve insulin regulation and strengthen our immune system. It even supports weight management efforts.
If you’re not getting enough sleep — or if your sleep schedule is irregular —you’re depriving your body of these benefits and putting yourself at risk for all sorts of conditions, including metabolic disorders, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
The studies linking poor quality and irregular sleep to these conditions have been piling up for years. Consider one from 2019 on sleep and metabolism. In the study, researchers split a group of 36 people into three groups for a two-week experiment: the first group slept up to nine hours a night; the second was allowed only five hours of sleep; and the third slept five hours during the week but could sleep late on the weekends.
Participants in the second and third groups gained weight and had reduced insulin sensitivity, both risk factors for type 2 diabetes. That’s in just two weeks! Imagine the impact if they had kept up their poor sleep schedule.
So back to how this can affect our heart health. Earlier studies have tied poor sleep patterns to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, asthma and obesity, which all negatively impact the heart.
The new study didn’t look just at a lack of sleep but at irregular sleep, as well. Participants who had irregular sleep schedules were more likely to have a coronary artery calcium score above 300, which is associated with a higher risk of heart attack. They were also more likely to have an abnormal ankle-brachial index, which can indicate narrowing or blockage of blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your legs. Both indicate atherosclerosis.
How do you lower this risk? Start by getting more sleep and sleeping more regularly. Guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you sleep at least seven hours a night if you’re 18 to 60. If you’re older, you may need seven to nine hours.
If you’re having trouble getting enough sleep, work with your MDVIP-affiliated physician. They know how important sleep is (the MDVIP Wellness Program contains a sleep screener as well as other tests that hone in on your atherosclerosis risk) and can help coach you. There are also tips on MDVIP.com that can help you get more sleep.
I like to sleep in on weekend mornings as much as the next person. Just don’t let those sleep-ins be a substitute for the sleep you should be getting every night.