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A good night’s sleep makes you feel better on many levels, but did you know it may affect your heart health?

There have been a number of studies that make a connection with having sufficient sleep and a lower risk of heart disease. There is also research that suggests too much sleep can be detrimental.

7 hours or more

Getting 7 or more hours sleep can be good for your heart, if you are also following a healthy lifestyle, according to a Netherlands study in 2013.

The research suggested that in addition to taking exercise, eating healthily, not smoking, drinking in moderation and having enough sleep also had an effect on the risk of coronary heart disease.

The team looked at heart disease and strokes in more than 14,000 people for more than 10 years. At the end of the study around 600 of them had suffered heart disease or strokes and 129 had died.

The study suggested that leading a healthy lifestyle was associated with a 57% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 67% lower risk of dying from heart disease or a stroke. However, when people also had sufficient sleep, 7 hours or more, the risks were lowered even more to 65% and 83% respectively.

Can you sleep for too long?

A review of 15 medical studies in the European Heart Journal in 2011 also found that people who slept for less than 6 hours had an increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease or stroke.

However, it also suggested that long sleepers, who averaged 9 or more hours a night, also showed increased risks.

Similarly a study in the US called the Nurses' Health Study, involved nearly 72,000 women and showed that women who slept for less than 8 hours had a greater risk of coronary heart disease. However, those who slept for 9 or more hours a night were also more likely to have coronary heart disease than women who slept for 8 hours.

Researchers have not yet identified a reason for the connection between oversleeping and heart disease.

Sleep and blood pressure

It has also been suggested that too little sleep can lead to the risk of high blood pressure. Good-quality sleep decreases the work of your heart, as blood pressure and your heart rate go down at night.

Your blood pressure dips as you sleep and if you aren’t sleeping for as long it may not have time to go down sufficiently. A study in the journal Hypertension in 2006 suggested that shorter sleep of 5 hours or less was associated with increased blood pressure.

Also when you sleep, your stress hormones readjust which may help inflammation, which is linked to heart disease and many other conditions.

"Small scale studies have shown associations between regular sleep patterns and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and we know that people's blood pressure drops when they are asleep, however this is an emerging area of study," says Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation.

She adds: "To draw firm conclusions, we need more comprehensive studies looking at the role that sleep can play on different kinds of people. A balanced diet and plenty of physical activity will help people maintain a healthy weight and sleep well at night. If sleepless nights are becoming a problem, talk to your GP."

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