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New research shows how sleep habits affect your risk of heart attacks

A pair of studies released this week at a leading cardiology conference found that while insomnia may raise the risk of having a heart attack, consistent high quality sleep habits could add years to your life.

The symptoms had to be present for at least three days a week for at least three months. Over an average of nine years of follow-up, people who habitually slept five or fewer hours were 56% more likely to have a heart attack than those who had the recommended eight hours a night, regardless of age or gender.

The researchers hope the study will raise “awareness of the importance of sleep in maintaining a healthy heart,” said the study’s first author, Yomna E. Dean, a medical student at Alexandria University in Alexandria, Egypt.

“Many people don’t realize how important it is,” Dean said.

“Some people might not necessarily be insomniacs, but are sleep deprived by choice,” Dean added. “That’s common nowadays. These findings apply to everyone who sleeps five or fewer hours a night.”

An estimated 10% of Americans have some form of insomnia and it’s more common in women, said Dr. Sanjay Patel, director of the Center for Sleep and Cardiovascular Outcomes Research at the University of Pittsburgh.

“At least part of the reason for that may be that two of the most common risk factors for insomnia are anxiety and depression, which are both more common in women,” said Patel.

People with highest quality sleep lived longer, according to the study: 4.7 additional years for men and 2.4 years, for women.

Stress is often the root of short bouts of insomnia, Patel said. In some people, that short-term stress “takes on a life of its own,” he noted. “Then, the not sleeping becomes the new stress. The more you worry about it, the harder it is to fall asleep. I’m a little concerned that this study might worsen insomnia for some people who will worry that if they can’t get more sleep they are going to have a heart attack.”

It’s important to develop rituals that your brain will associate with falling asleep, Robbins said, adding “it could be reading a book or thinking one happy thought or meditating.”

If you wake up during the night, go back to the same set of rituals that got you to sleep earlier on, Robbins said.

If you can’t sleep don’t just lay in bed, Robbins said.

“You want to keep your bed as a place for sleep and sleep alone,” Robbins said. “If you’re tossing and turning get out of bed. Bed should be the safe place you sleep.”

Linda Carroll is a regular health contributor to NBC News and Reuters Health. She is coauthor of “The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic” and “Out of the Clouds: The Unlikely Horseman and the Unwanted Colt Who Conquered the Sport of Kings.” 

Category: Science

Source: NBC Science

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