Story at a glance
- Going to bed a few hours earlier or later can make a big difference to your health.
- Researchers are starting to understand how getting to sleep earlier might also affect heart health.
- More research is needed, but experts are hopeful that this could be one way to help reduce risk.
Getting to bed at a reasonable time can be a struggle for many people. It not only could affect recovery, but could limit how much daylight you receive if your sleep schedule is shifted later. New research suggests that getting to bed early could also affect heart health.
In a study published in European Heart Journal - Digital Health, researchers looked at data from more than 88,000 people in the U.K. The average age was 61 years old. Participants wore a device on their wrist that recorded sleep onset and waking times over the course of a week. The participants also completed surveys or assessments about their lifestyle and health.
“The body has a 24-hour internal clock, called circadian rhythm, that helps regulate physical and mental functioning,” says study author David Plans of the University of Exeter, UK in a press release. “While we cannot conclude causation from our study, the results suggest that early or late bedtimes may be more likely to disrupt the body clock, with adverse consequences for cardiovascular health.”
The researchers found that after an average follow up length of 5.7 years about 3.7 percent of people developed cardiovascular disease. The incidence of disease was higher for people who went to sleep at midnight or later and was lowest for people who went to bed between 10 and 10:59 PM.
“Our study indicates that the optimum time to go to sleep is at a specific point in the body's 24-hour cycle and deviations may be detrimental to health,” says Plans. “The riskiest time was after midnight, potentially because it may reduce the likelihood of seeing morning light, which resets the body clock.”
The team thinks that these findings need more studies to understand if this really is a link and whether we should pay attention to it for heart health reasons. For example, future studies could support this by collecting more sleep data over a longer period of time rather than seven days. “While the findings do not show causality, sleep timing has emerged as a potential cardiac risk factor – independent of other risk factors and sleep characteristics,” says Plans. “If our findings are confirmed in other studies, sleep timing and basic sleep hygiene could be a low-cost public health target for lowering risk of heart disease.”
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