A New Study Suggests the Best Bedtime for Heart Health

Photo: Getty/ Braun S
When you hear what the body accomplishes while you sleep, it almost sounds like a spa day for your insides. As you snooze, your body balances your hormones, regulates appetite, improves immune system function, supports healthy brain function, and repairs things like muscles, heart, and blood vessels—to name a few. Restful sleep improves mental clarity, mood, energy, problem-solving skills, and so much more. Even though a lot of sleep advice focuses on how much sleep you should get, a new study published in the European Heart Journal suggests that falling asleep between 10 and 10:59 pm might be a heart-healthy sweet spot.

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To draw this conclusion, researchers looked at data from 88,026 participants using the UK Biobank, a biomedical research database. Clinicians measured the participants' bedtime habits twice via a wrist heart monitor strap. The study collected this bedtime data between 2006 and 2016, spanning an average of 5.7 years. During the follow-up measurements, 3.6 percent (3,172 participants) reported cardiovascular disease diagnoses since their first evaluation. In this case, cardiovascular disease included conditions like heart attack, heart failure, chronic ischemic heart disease, stroke, and transient ischemic attack (a common precursor to stroke). 

"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," David Plans, MSc, PhD, an author of the study, told the European Society of Cardiology.

Though more research is needed, there has been considerable research on how sleep schedules can impact overall health, particularly among individuals who work night shifts.

Your sleep-wake cycle is typically governed by the circadian rhythm, which acts as an internal clock, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And the circadian rhythm relies, in part, on cues like daylight and darkness. When light is transmitted through your eyes and into a specific 'control center' of your brain, that indicates to your body whether it is time to wake up, go to sleep, or stay awake. A 2017 paper published in Current Sleep Medicine Reports suggests that, among shift workers and people with non-traditional hours, disrupted sleep schedules and circadian rhythm can cause a host of health issues including his leads to a range of medical conditions, including diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, compromised immune function, cardiovascular disease, excessive sleepiness, mood, and social disorders, and increased cancer risk.

This is important because the European Heart Journal study suggests there might be a specific sleeping sweet spot "in the body's 24-hour cycle, and deviations may be detrimental to health," Dr. Plans explained. "The riskiest time was after midnight, potentially because it may reduce the likelihood of seeing morning light, which resets the body clock."

If you're feeling stressed about the state of your sleep habits—don't panic. "The most important thing you can do when it comes to sleep is to try to start cultivating a routine that doesn't change much," says Alicia N. Pate, PhD, assistant professor of Medical Anatomy and Physiology at Ponce Health Sciences University Saint Louis. "Use the hour before bed for quiet time, making sure to avoid electronics, bright artificial light, and strenuous exercise as these tend to signal your brain that it is time to be awake. "

Getting the seven to nine hours recommended by the National Sleep Foundation is also a great place to start, and Dr. Pate also recommends that you avoid screen time in the hours leading up to bedtime, as this can confuse your brain's interpretation of light cues.

You can also try to participate in relaxation practices like hot baths, meditation, low impact stretching, listening to soothing music, deep breathing, or reading a book—these help your body prepare for sleep. This consistency will help teach your body to follow its sleep-wake cycle, which can only help your overall health.

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