The Connection: Sleep and Heart Attack Risk

Medically reviewed in January 2020

Sleeping 6-8 hours a night appears to be the sweet spot. Sleeping too much or too little appears to put your heart at risk according to large study just released.

People who slept less than 6 hours per day had twice the risk of heart attack or stroke compared with those who slept 6-8 hours, even after adjusting for known risk factors.

People with less than 6 hours of sleep duration were also at increased risk of heart failure and what was really interesting is that folks who slept more than 8 hours per night had two times the risk of angina (cardiac chest pain) as well as an increased risk of coronary artery disease.

The take home message here is that 6-8 hours seems to be the sweet spot. What is it about people who sleep more than 8 hours being at risk? It may be that conditions that cause you to sleep more (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes or low socioeconomic status) could all contribute to cardiovascular risk.

I am not surprised by the risk associated with less than 6 hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation is associated with activation of the sympathetic nervous system, high blood sugar, an increase in cortisol levels and higher blood pressure all of which increase your risk of stroke and heart attack.

This latest study was 3000 individuals 45 years and older who were asked about sleep quality and then placed into one of three categories: fewer than 6 hours of sleep a night, 6-8 hours a night, and more than 8 hours of sleep per night. Even after taking in to account age, blood pressure, gender, body mass index, diabetes, smoking status, cholesterol, sleep apnea, and family history of heart attack, less than 6 or more than 8 hours of sleep lead to higher risk.

What I want everyone to know is that your doctor must be talking to you about sleep. It’s important to know your goal is 6-8 hours a night. For the many of you who struggle with insomnia I know remedying that is no easy trick. 

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