Along with exercising and eating a balanced meal, getting a good night’s sleep is vital for a strong and healthy heart. On Wednesday, the American Heart Association (AHA) updated its cardiovascular health checklist, adding sleep as one of eight key areas that measure a person’s heart health.
New data collected in the past decade has highlighted the importance of sleep to lower the risk for heart problems, prompting AHA to issue “Life’s Essential 8,” a new version of its heart guidelines. “Sleep is related to every single one of the other seven elements—it’s closely tied to weight, blood pressure, glucose metabolism, what we choose to eat,” Donald Lloyd-Jones, the AHA president, said in a Northwestern University press release. “There’s newer research that shows when we take the old seven and add sleep, we can predict cardiovascular disease and stroke even better.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with a person estimated to die from the disease every 36 seconds. And a lack of sleep can contribute to worsening heart problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleeping lowers your blood pressure, controls blood sugar levels, and maintains your weight—all factors that can reduce the odds of heart attacks, heart disease, and stroke.
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The average adult needs between seven to nine hours of rest every night, but more than 1 in 3 Americans sleep less than seven hours a day. The quality of sleep matters, too. Sleep is divided into REM and non-REM sleep cycles, which refer to the rapid movements of your eyes. During non-REM sleep, slumber is deeper, helping you physically heal. (There are mental benefits as well: Research also suggests non-REM sleep works in tandem with REM sleep to improve learning.)
Sleep brings AHA’s previous 2010 list from seven to eight factors, which also include maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding nicotine, having a healthy weight and blood pressure, and having healthy levels of blood lipids and blood glucose.
There are other fresh revisions to that checklist, too. One is changing how people track their diet. “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,” Eduardo Sanchez, the AHA’s chief medical officer for prevention, told CNN. Another change is expanding the category of avoiding nicotine to include vaping and secondhand smoke.
One of the goals of the checklist is to measure heart health early in kids, and help them maintain their hearts as they age. “We’re losing a lot of cardiovascular health in the eating patterns as our kids age into later childhood and adolescence,” said Lloyd-Jones. “When we create healthier kids, they become healthier adults who then go on to have healthier pregnancies, and the benefits continue with their kids being healthier simply because their parents were healthier.”