Sleep duration matters for heart health: AHA checklist

The American Heart Association added sleep duration to its cardiovascular health checklist. It’s a part of “Life’s Essential 8,” a questionnaire that measures eight key areas to determine a person’s cardiovascular health.

In addition to sleep, the new list retained the original categories: diet, physical activity, nicotine exposure, body mass index, blood lipids, blood glucose and blood pressure.

Sleep duration made the list after researchers examined new scientific findings over the past decade that found sleep played an important role in heart health, according to Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, the AHA’s chief medical officer for prevention.

“Folks not getting enough sleep have a higher likelihood of things like obesity, hypertension and diabetes,” Sanchez said.

What counts as healthy sleep?

Adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, said pulmonary critical care and sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a clinical associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.

However, people need to have quality sleep to reap the benefits, said Dasgupta, who is also a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

A person goes through multiple sleep cycles made up of non-REM and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, Dasgupta said. There are three stages of non-REM sleep, and in the third one you enter deep sleep, which restores the body both mentally and physically, he explained.

If you keep waking up, it will prevent you from going to those deeper stages, Dasgupta said. This can lead to higher blood pressure and increased blood sugar levels, which is associated with diabetes and obesity, he said. Those conditions contribute to lower heart health and increase the risk of developing heart failure, Dasgupta said.

Amended guidance

Multiple other categories were amended, including diet, nicotine exposure, blood lipids and blood glucose.

The AHA has come up with a new way to assess how well people are eating, Sanchez said.

“We are recommending a 16-item questionnaire that can be used at regular intervals to assess healthy dietary habits that focuses on weekly amounts of food,” he said.
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Nicotine exposure centered around smoking tobacco, but now it includes exposure to secondhand smoke as well as vaping, Sanchez said.

Blood lipids will be measured using non-HDL cholesterol rather than total cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein is known as the “good” cholesterol, and high levels can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Measuring blood glucose levels expanded to include hemoglobin A1c levels, which measures a person’s blood sugar levels over the previous three months, according to the CDC. The test is often used for people managing their diabetes as well as diagnosing prediabetes and diabetes.

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