Observational study links healthful sleep patterns and heart health

A woman is sleeping on a bed in the morning as the sun rises and peeks through a window.

A study in Circulation, supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, finds adults with healthful sleep patterns had fewer incidents of heart failure throughout a 10-year period. The researchers surveyed 400,000 adults, ages 37-73, enrolled in the UK Biobank, a database of half a million volunteers sharing medical information with scientists about potential factors that influence health and disease. Researchers selected study participants if they documented their sleep schedules and didn’t have heart failure. The researchers analyzed correlations between self-reported sleep patterns at the study onset and cases of heart failure a decade later.

Healthful sleep patterns were defined by sleep chronotype, or classifying oneself as a “morning” person; sleep quantity, or getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night; not snoring; and rarely experiencing insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness. Each sleep category received a maximum score of one point. The highest sleep-health score was five; the lowest was zero. The modeling showed higher sleep-health scores overlapped with fewer incidents of heart failure, while controlling for diabetes, high blood pressure, medication use, and genetic influences. The study also found an 8% reduced risk of heart failure for being a “morning person,” a 12% reduced risk for getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night, a 17% reduced risk for not experiencing insomnia, and a 34% reduced risk for not experiencing excessive daytime drowsiness.

The strength of the study, the researchers note, is the ability to evaluate how sleep patterns and sleep metrics correlate with heart failure. However, they cite limitations of observational studies. In this case, memory recall may skew self-reporting. The study captures correlations instead of controlling for interventions, like sleep. Participants weren’t surveyed for sleep patterns at the end of the study. However, the researchers say this study is one of the first to highlight the role healthful sleep patterns may have in preventing heart failure.