Everyone knows there is value in getting a good night’s sleep.

After all, no one wants to fall asleep during a lunch date or at the conference table in a 3 pm meeting! But one of the best reasons to consistently pursue the right amount of quality sleep is the impact it has on your heart.

“In the last 50 years, sleep duration has decreased an average of two hours per night for adults in the U.S.,” Cardiologist Dr. Barad said. “Unfortunately, during that same period of time we have learned that poor sleep habits have a definitive correlation to an increased risk of heart disease.”

A very large European study published in 2011 involved the sleep patterns of nearly 475,000 people. Results indicated that “short sleepers” – defined as less than six hours per night – had a 48% increased risk of early death from coronary heart disease, and a 15% greater risk of a stroke.

However, before you dive into your PJs and plan to move into your comfy king-sized bed for the rest of the winter, be warned: too much sleep is not much better.

The study revealed that “long sleepers” – defined as an average of nine or more hours per night - also showed a 38% increased risk of developing or dying of coronary heart disease, and a 65% increased risk of stroke.

While experts say that lack of sleep doesn’t necessarily cause heart disease, there is agreement that insufficient sleep increases the associated risk factors.

For instance, studies show a link between shortened sleep cycles and increased calcification of the arteries – which is a predictor of eventual coronary artery disease.

Similar studies revealed that shorter sleep is also tied to worsening hypertension.

“For most people, blood pressure drops at night,” Barad said. “It’s possible that these shortened sleep cycles aren’t long enough for that valuable dip in pressure to occur.”

There are also some indirect factors aligning sleep patterns with heart health.

For instance, lack of sleep can increase insulin resistance (a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease), and C-reactive protein (CRP), which is released with stress and inflammation. And shortened sleep interferes with appetite regulation, often resulting in overeating and/or making poor food choices.

It’s worth noting that the effect of sleep on the heart is a relatively new area of study, and drawing direct correlations is difficult even for experts to accomplish. Measuring people’s sleep is complicated, and many studies rely on patients to self-monitor and self-report accurate details. However, enough research has been compiled to safely assert this: Getting less than six hours of sleep per night on a regular basis is NOT a good idea.

To that end, here are some quick tips to help you get a good night’s sleep – at least on most nights:

Exercise regularly. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days, but avoid any rigorous exercise within 3 hours of bedtime. Switch to decaf. More and more studies show a link between coffee and physical benefits, but consider switching to water or decaffeinated beverages after 3pm. You’d be surprised how far a cup of coffee after dinner can follow you into the night… Establish a routine. Give your brain a chance to move into sleep mode – turn off the enthralling TV or video games at least two hours before bed. Consider a ten-minute meditation practice just before climbing into bed, or a low-key yoga program specially designed for evening relaxation. This will not only help you fall asleep, it will ensure a better quality of deep sleep through the night. Avoid sleep medicines. Medication designed to induce rapid or deep sleep may have value in the short-term, but can do tremendous damage to your long-term sleep habits. Also, recent studies have shown that even those using sleep aids a couple of times per month have a significantly higher risk of premature death. There are too many other solutions for good sleep – these medications are typically just not worth the risk. Address sleep apnea. If you suffer from sleep apnea or excessive snoring, do not underestimate its impact to your health – or your heart. Treatments for both conditions have made major advances in the past decade, and are both convenient and effective in restoring sleep and proper breathing.

Sleep is one of the most significant and underrated aspects of our overall health and longevity, and also one of the easiest things to fix with some modest lifestyle modifications.

If you need to be connected with a qualified sleep medicine practitioner, talk to your primary care physician or contact (337-239-5113.