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Why the WHO is warning about poor sleep and heart health

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A bad night of sleep doesn’t just leave you tired and groggy the next day – a new World Health Organization study is warning that it should be a risk factor for heart disease like smoking and lack of exercise. AP Photo

Lack of sleep doesn’t just leave you tired and groggy the next day – a new World Health Organization study is warning that it should be a risk factor for heart disease like smoking and lack of exercise.

Poor sleep and sleep disorders tamper with heart health, increasing our risk of heart attack and stroke, according to new findings out of the WHO’s team researching cardiovascular disease.

“Sleep is not a trivial issue. In our study it was associated with double the risk of a heart attack and up to four times the risk of stroke. Poor sleep should be considered a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease along with smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet. Guidelines should add sleep as a risk factor to recommendations for preventing cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Valery Gafarov said.

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Heart disease and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada, according to the national Heart and Stroke Foundation. “It means that today we are talking about an epidemic of cardiovascular disease,” Gafarov said. It’s why the WHO team is pinning down the risk factors leading to the chronic condition.

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The research is part of the global health authority’s “MONICA” program. In this piece of the project, the doctors looked at 657 men from Russia who were between 25 and 64 years old with no history of heart attack, stroke or diabetes.

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Sleep quality and cases of heart attack and stroke were recorded over the course of 14 years. During that time, the men who were dealing with sleep disorders had a risk of heart attack that was 2 to 2.6 times higher than their peers without any issues with sleep between the five and 14-year follow-ups. For stroke, the risk was 1.5 to four times higher if the patients had trouble with sleeping.

Overall, nearly two-thirds of the group who had a heart attack also had a sleeping disorder.

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This isn’t the first study to shine a light on the negative effects of poor sleep. It tampers with your body’s circadian rhythm, brain function, memory and processing speed. Shift work, when people work odd hours or an irregular schedule that toys with a routine sleeping schedule, has been linked to heart disease, cancer and mental health issues.

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Other research has suggested that those who sleep for less than six hours a night are twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as their peers who get six to eight hours of rest per night. It may be because your body’s biological processes, such as glucose metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation are affected, too.

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The WHO study was presented at the EuroHeartCare conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia, Monday morning. Read more about the conference here.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca