Inconsistencies in sleep schedules could negatively affect heart health

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Researchers say even small changes can affect consumers’ heart rates

While one recent study found how poor sleep can increase women’s risk of heart disease, researchers from the University of Notre Dame explored other cardiovascular risks associated with disruptions to sleep. 

The study emphasized the importance of sticking to a solid sleep schedule, as deviating from it can increase consumers’ risk for an elevated heart rate while they sleep. 

“We already know that an increase in resting heart rate means an increased risk to cardiovascular health,” said researcher Nitesha Chawla. “Through our study, we found that even if you get seven hours of sleep a night, if you’re not going to bed at the same time each night, not only does your resting heart rate increase while you sleep, it carries over into the next day.” 

Sticking to a schedule

To understand the association between sleep schedules and heart health, the researchers tracked the sleeping habits of over 550 college students over the course of four years. All of the students wore Fitbits, which allowed the researchers to monitor all of the appropriate data, including their heart rate and their sleeping habits, on a daily basis. 

They learned that even slight deviations in when the students went to sleep had an effect on their resting heart rate (RHR). This was true whether the students went to bed earlier or later than usual. 

Some trends did emerge, though. Going to bed earlier prompted the students’ RHR to regulate as they slept; students who went to bed later had more significant changes to their RHR. The researchers also explained that adhering to a sleep schedule isn’t as strict as some consumers may think. Going to bed each night within the same one-hour window is in line with a healthy schedule.

As a practice, the researchers recommend that consumers take a personalized approach to their sleeping habits because no one schedule works for everyone. However, the overarching message is to find something that does work and stick with it. 

“For some, it may be a matter of maintaining their regular ‘work week’ bedtime through the weekend,” said Chawla. “For shift workers and those who travel frequently, getting to bed at the same time each night is a challenge. Establishing a healthy bedtime routine -- as best you can -- is obviously step number one. But sticking to it is just as important.”

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