05/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Fit And Sleepless Can Equal Heart Attack

You can be an avid marathonrunner, health food nut, gym rat, non-smoker, non-drinker, and even a relatively stress-free lean person but still suffer the consequences of getting less-than-adequate sleep in the form of a heart attack at a young age.

Just ask Ranjan Das'sfamily, who are still scratching their heads as to why he suffered a massive heart attack at the age of 42. He was a young and popular CEO in India and famously freakish about fitness. He seemed to do everything right butsleep--getting only four to five hours a night when he really needed more.

News like this should remind us that getting enough sleep is a vital sign of health just like blood pressure or respiratory rate.  

A growing body of evidence is linking lack of sleep with heart disease. What if being sleep deprived is just as bad as having high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure? Some of the documented findings of late:

  • According to the report, sleeping fewer than six hours a night has been linked to an increased risk for high blood pressure by 350 to 500 percent compared to those who slept longer than six hours per night.
  • Young people(25-49 years of age) are twice as likely to get high blood pressure if theysleep less.
  • Individuals who slept less than five hours a night had a three-fold increased risk of heart attacks.
  • Complete and partial lack of sleep increased the blood concentrations of C-Reactive Protein, the strongest predictor of heart attacks. Even after getting adequate sleep later, the levels stayed high!
  • Just one night of sleep loss increases very toxic substances in body that increase risks of many medical conditions, including cancer, arthritis and heart disease. 

In terms of overall percentages, researchers have found that sleeping just five hours or less a night leads to a 39 percent increase in heart disease. Sleeping for six hours or less per night leads to an 18 percent increase in heart disease.

It's a forgone conclusion: if you're not getting your ZZZs to match your body's needs, which for most of us means at least seven hours a night, then you might as well sit on the couch and eat pork rinds while you think about that ticking time bomb in your chest.  Nothing against pork rinds (or sitting on the couch), but you get what I mean. 

Sleep. It's good for your heart.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor™

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This post about sleep and heart health is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.