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Your Heart Needs A Good Nights Sleep

Struggling with sleep? Lack of sleep can raise your risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, depression, and other health issues. Virtua cardiologist David Lawrence, MD, offers tips to catch more Z's.

Updated September 30, 2020

By David Lawrence, MD, FACC, Virtua Cardiology

Many adults struggle to get enough sleep. Whether you’re up late finishing a report for your boss or binge-watching a television series on your tablet, the consequences of too little or poor sleep go beyond having a cranky mood the next day.

Research shows that consistently getting a good night’s sleep is critical for your heart health. Lack of sleep can raise your risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, obesity, and depression.

Your Sleep Sweet Spot

How much sleep should you get? According to a recent study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, six to eight hours is best.


The study found that people who slept fewer than six hours a night were 27 percent more likely to have plaque buildup in their arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis, throughout their body. It also suggested that sleeping more than eight hours nightly may increase atherosclerosis risk, particularly in women.

People who had poor-quality sleep—frequently waking up or having difficulty falling asleep—were 34 percent more likely to have plaque in their arteries.

What’s the connection? People who lack sleep have higher levels of stress hormones that increase inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, contributes to a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance, all of which can lead to heart disease.

People with poor sleep habits also tend to lead an unhealthy lifestyle, including eating high-sugar or fatty foods, drinking higher levels of caffeine and alcohol, and not exercising. These choices can lead to obesity and a higher risk for heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

Catch More Z’s 

To help you get a good night sleep:


  • Stick to a schedule, even on weekends.
  • Keep your room dark, quiet, and cool, ideally about 65 degrees.
  • Be physically active during the day, but don’t exercise within a few hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid late-night alcohol and caffeine.
  • Keep electronics out of the bedroom.
  • Skip afternoon naps.

If you have trouble sleeping or wake up without feeling rested, speak to your doctor. You may have an underlying problem, like sleep apnea, that needs treatment.

Can’t sleep? Virtua Health’s four sleep centers offer diagnostic testing for both adults and children suffering from sleep disorders. Click here to learn more.