Lack of sleep hardens the arteries

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Lack of sleep hardens the arteries

Key Points:
  • Hardening of the arteries is caused by the build up of plaques of calcium and raises the risk of heart disease
  • Nearly one-third of people who slept less than five hours a night had hardening of the arteries
  • Yet only one in 10 of those who slept for 6 hours a night or more had hardening of their arteries

An American study has linked hardening of the arteries with the amount of sleep a person gets each night. The more sleep a person has, the less likely they are to have calcium plaques build up in their arteries.

The presence of such calcium plaques has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and heart attack. So the longer a person sleeps, the lower their risk of developing heart disease.

The study looked followed 495 Americans aged 35-47 over a five-year period. Overall, 12.3% (61 people) developed hardening of their arteries over the five years.

When the researchers analysed the results, they found that:

  • nearly one-third of people who slept for less than five hours a night developed hardened arteries
  • but only one in 10 people who slept for six hours or more developed hardened arteries.

Overall, every hour of extra sleep appeared to lower the risk of developing calcium plaques in the arteries by 33%.

At the moment, it is not known why getting more sleep should help people to avoid hardening of the arteries, but there are a number of possible reasons:

  • it could be that blood pressure plays a role. When you sleep, your blood pressure drops. So, if you sleep less, then your blood pressure doesn’t drop so much and the extra strain on the arteries could cause the build up of calcium
  • it could be that stress is the cause. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, have been linked with not getting enough sleep and with an increase in the amount of calcium plaques.

Whatever the cause, the best advice is to try to get at least six hours of sleep each night to help keep your arteries clear and flexible. One way to help promote good natural sleep is to be physically active on most days of the week. For more ideas on activities that will promote sleep and lower your blood pressure and further information on blood pressure and your arteries, please click on the links below.


King CR, Knutson KL, Rahtouz PJ et al. Short sleep duration and incident coronary artery calcification. JAMA 2008; 300: 2859-2866.

Topics: Lifestyle, High blood pressure

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