Want Better Heart Health? Adjust Your Bedtime
Early to bed and early to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise? There might just be some truth to that. If you want to avoid heart disease later in life, there are plenty of things you can do to help: eat a balanced diet, get plenty of cardiovascular exercise and now, go to bed at a reasonable hour. Turns out your parents and Ben Franklin were right: regularly staying up late isn’t good for you.
This might be anathema for anyone with enough energy to go to concerts or clubs and participate in countless hours of online gaming—but if you want to enjoy your later years, it’s worth considering an earlier bedtime.
How sleep affects heart health
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that chronic lack of sleep is linked to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. If you’re sleeping less than seven hours per night, it will affect your blood pressure, blood sugar and weight.
Sleep lowers your blood pressure, which is part of the way your body repairs itself while you rest. If you fail to get adequate amounts of sleep, your blood pressure is higher overall for longer periods of time. High blood pressure is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Similarly, sleep also helps you control your blood sugar and the part of your brain that controls hunger. If you suffer from sleep apnea, your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke increases.
In short, when you regularly lose out on sleep, you’re jeopardizing your own health. If that doesn’t make you want to crawl under the covers sooner, what will?
The best bedtime for heart health
New research coming out of Europe examines whether there’s an optimal time for sleep—not just the amount of sleep you get. While the scientists involved point out that they can’t conclude causation from the study, the results do suggest that “early or late bedtimes may be more likely to disrupt the body clock, with adverse consequences for cardiovascular health.”
The best bedtime for your heart health is between 10 and 11pm, they found.
The study examined over 88,000 patients over a four-year period, then followed up after an average of 5.7 years. The study’s findings indicate “that the optimum time to go to sleep is at a specific point in the body’s 24-hour cycle and deviations may be detrimental to health. The riskiest time was after midnight, potentially because it may reduce the likelihood of seeing morning light, which resets the body clock.”
This doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to heart disease if you’re a night owl, or have to work overnight. However, you may want to adjust your bedtime if you have more flexibility. Not only will you look and feel better with more sleep (nothing wrong with some healthy vanity!), but improving your basic sleep hygiene can work wonders on your long-term health.
The other great news to come out of this study is that by encouraging better sleep hygiene, governments may help cut down on their citizenry’s risk of heart disease and stroke. More research is needed to determine whether the “best bedtime” really is such a determining factor—but if the results of this study hold up, you might want to force yourself to stop the nightly Netflix binge at a reasonable hour.
Other benefits of an early bedtime
Of course, getting enough sleep—at a good time for your circadian rhythms—doesn’t just benefit your heart health. It can also reduce stress and make it easier to deal with all of life’s little indignities. Your concentration and memory will be better, and you’ll feel happier.
In fact, the studies linked above have found that going to bed at a reasonable hour is also linked to less procrastination and more persistence, proactivity and agreeableness. Score one for the much-maligned morning people!
Ultimately, getting enough sleep is the biggest factor in improving your health, mood and appearance. If a 10 to 11pm bedtime doesn’t work with your schedule, don’t panic. Plenty of people work graveyard shift or have newborn children, and they survive. It’s not pleasant at the time, but kids grow up or you can find a job with better hours, for example.
If you can’t go to bed early, try to find ways that you can improve your sleep hygiene and get seven or more hours of sleep every day. You’ll love how much better you feel—and so will your heart.