Too Little or Too Much Sleep Hurts Cardiovascular Health

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant


A Greek study seems to indicate a correlation between obtaining too little or too much sleep and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Researcher Epameinondas Fountas, a physician with the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre in Athens, Greece, analyzed 11 studies comprised of more than a million adults and concluded that both long sleepers and shorter sleepers appeared to have a greater risk of experiencing coronary artery disease or stroke when compared with sleepers in the ideal range of six to eight hours’ sleep.

For short snoozers, the risk increased by 11 percent; for those who rested longer, risk rose by 33 percent after an average follow-up of 9.3 years.

“If we are told by nature to sleep one-third of our lives, it has to be very, very important,” said Upstate Medical University neurologist Antonio Culebras.

He said that some sleep disorders can increase the risk of not sleeping well and can increase sleep apnea, which has been associated with other health issues.

“Fragmentation of sleep has been known to put a big burden on the heart,” Culebras said. “There’s a big connection with good sleep and the heart.”

He also listed diabetes and high blood pressure as other diseases exacerbated by poor sleep.

The reasons behind getting too little or two much sleep may be what’s to blame, not the sleep length itself. Culebras said that the real take-away from studies such as this is that establishing regular sleep patterns are good for health, and addressing sleep-disturbing issues can help improve both sleep and health. These issues could include brain injury, dementia, restless leg syndrome or behavioral issues.

Many older adults are prone to napping during the day. Culebras said that while a catnap of 15 to 20 minutes may promote alertness, those who don’t sleep well at night should limit daytime napping and definitely cut out the hour-long snooze fests.

People who experience sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea, lack adequate, restful sleep. Many don’t even realize that their airway is blocked over and over all night, which is why they snore in loud, ragged gasps. Not all snoring is sleep apnea, and not all sleep apnea involves snoring. However, all sleep apnea needs treatment.

Culebras said that managing sleep apnea can help manage the symptoms of other conditions or even prevent some.

“There’s some evidence now that poor control of sleep apnea may increase the risk of vascular dementia,” Culebras said. “We see it all the time. Individuals with poorly controlled sleep apnea are having more vascular dementia. It manifests with poor memory, loss of executive planning and power, and some gait disturbance and incontinence of urine in advanced stages. What is important is it’s preventable, if we make a diagnosis of sleep apnea and comply with the treatment.”

People experiencing what they suspect is sleep apnea should see their doctor, but will likely receive a referral to a sleep specialist who may recommend devices to keep the airway open and lifestyle changes.

Douglas Goldschmidt, Ph.D. and licensed clinical social worker in Syracuse, has studied cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. He said that he sees many patients with sleep issues.

“People who are anxious and have depression have poor sleep and some with depression and anxiety have major sleep issues,” he said. “It becomes a cycle.”

He said that many people have poor sleep hygiene.

Going to bed and rising at regular times is part of sleep hygiene, as well as eschewing late day caffeine consumption, reading or watching television in bed and using electronics before bedtime.

The bed linens should be comfortable and the room kept dark and a comfortable temperature. Hot, stuffy bedrooms don’t promote good sleep. Bright night lights, streetlights, and alarm clocks may disrupt sleep, also.


Goldschmidt also talks about what people do directly before bed. It’s not the time to read a gripping “who-done-it” novel or watch a scary movie. He wants people to remove television and electronics from the bedroom so it becomes a place for only sleeping and sex.

Doing other things in the bedroom builds associations in the brain that the bedroom isn’t a restful place. Goldschmidt also wants people to engage in a nightly ritual that helps them wind down. Light reading, a non-sugary snack, and dimmer lighting, for example, can help the body and mind quiet down.

Beyond sleep hygiene, he offers cognitive behavior therapy.

“You get people to look at their beliefs about sleep that are incorrect that interfere with sleep,” Goldschmidt said. “You work through their beliefs and behaviors about sleep. You get into things you can do that help promote sleep.”

Listening to dull audiobooks at a low sound threshold or white noise helps some people.

To tame intruding thoughts, Goldschmidt recommends jotting them down to deal with tomorrow.

“Good sleep is very important and it affects all aspects of your ability to function,” Goldschmidt said.