A white heart-shaped pillow.
New study suggests too much or too little sleep may be bad for your heart. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

When it comes to sleep, people seem to have different needs. But how much sleep is best for your heart?

A new analysis of 11 studies that included a total of more than 1 million adults without heart disease suggests the sweet spot is six to eight hours a night. The studies were published within the past five years.

The researchers compared adults who slept between six and eight hours to others. Adults who slept less or more than that were, respectively, 11 percent and 33 percent more likely to develop or die from heart disease or stroke during an average follow-up of 9.3 years, the findings showed.


Lights out for a strong heart

If you want to ensure an optimal sleep routine, Leisha Cuddihy, PhD, offers some tips.

Try these approaches each night before bed:

  • Turn off electronics. This includes cell phones, tablets, TV, any technology. It’s best to keep this stuff out of the bedroom altogether. Dr. Cuddihy’s ironclad rule: “An hour before bed, all that should be turned off and not turned on again until you wake up in the morning.”
  • Set a sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time every morning.
  • Make a list. Hours before bed, purge your mind of what you suspect will nag at you in bed. Write down the shopping list for tomorrow, the to-do items, the bright idea you’ve been tossing around. Don’t take those thoughts to bed.
  • Quiet your mind. Practice mindfulness—be present in the moment and let go. “It’s one of the skills I sometimes teach patients who are having a lot of racing thoughts,” Dr. Cuddihy said. “Instead of honing in on those thoughts and following them where they go, separate yourself from them and focus internally on your breathing.”

The report was presented at a European Society of Cardiology meeting in Munich, Germany. Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“We spend one-third of our lives sleeping, yet we know little about the impact of this biological need on the cardiovascular system,” study author Dr. Epameinondas Fountas said in a society news release. Fountas works at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens, Greece.

“Our findings suggest that too much or too little sleep may be bad for the heart. More research is needed to clarify exactly why, but we do know that sleep influences biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation—all of which have an impact on cardiovascular disease,” Fountas said.

“Having the odd short night or lie-in is unlikely to be detrimental to health, but evidence is accumulating that prolonged nightly sleep deprivation or excessive sleeping should be avoided,” Fountas said.

There are, he said, plenty of ways to establish good sleep habits. Among them: Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day; avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bed; eating a healthy diet; and being physically active.

“Getting the right amount of sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle,” Fountas concluded.