Good sleep could help lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes

New research based on data from the UK biobank suggests a role of sleep in good heart health 


A large new study suggests that getting a good night’s sleep could play a possible role in lowering the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Researchers based in China used data from the UK biobank to examine the effect of sleep, and found it has a protective effect on heart health, no matter what your genetic risk of heart disease. 

The UK biobank is a resource made up of data from 500,000 people in mid-life to older age in the UK. It includes genetic samples as well as answers to detailed questionnaires. In this study, the researchers looked at information on 385,000 people without heart disease and followed them up for an average of 8.5 years to see if they had gone on to have a heart attack or stroke. 

To explore the role of sleep, the researchers created a sleep score based on the participants sleeping habits, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The score considered: 

  1. being a morning person rather than a 'night owl'
  2. sleeping 7 to 8 hours most nights
  3. never or rarely having difficulty getting to sleep or waking in the night
  4. not snoring
  5. not dozing off during the daytime without meaning to.

When the researchers compared people with the lowest score to people with the highest score, those with this highest sleep score had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease (which includes heart attacks and stroke) and coronary heart disease. The effect was substantial, lowering the risk of illness by 35%. 

When looking at the results one point at a time, for example comparing a score of 3 to 2, each point was linked to an 8% lower risk of illness. The researchers also estimated that 10% of serious health events such as heart attacks could be attributed to poor sleep. 

The researchers also looked at how sleep relates to genetic risk of disease. They found that good sleep was linked to a lower risk of illness no matter what your genetic risk. Overall, people with low genetic risk and good sleep had the lowest risk of disease, and people with high genetic risk and poor sleep had the highest risk of disease.  

The authors said: "Our findings underline the importance of considering sleep behaviours in cardiovascular practice."

Nirmala Markandu, Hypertension Nurse Specialist at Blood Pressure UK, explains: “Doctors are already aware of a few other studies which reported the reduction of cardiovascular disease (such as heart attacks and stroke) with sleep. This is an observational study on a large number of people with self-reported sleep scores so there are limitations to this report, as no cause or effect could be reported. But the study does clearly suggest that good sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, along with healthy food and regular physical activity. More research is needed.” 

Find information on how to get a good night’s sleep 

Read the full paper in the European Heart Journal  

Read more about this study in NHS Behind the Headlines