Justin Horrocks photo
This week, get an extra hour of sleep to celebrate National Sleep Awareness Week, March 1-8, and also prevent heart complications. That's right — the Journal of the American Medical Association released scientific evidence on Christmas Eve 2008 that getting 60 additional z's per night reduces the risk of developing calcium deposits in the arteries (these can lead to heart attacks).
"It is a very tantalizing study," says Dr. David J. Leszczyszyn, medical director for the VCU Health Center for Sleep Medicine. "What they say is that the odds of having increased calcification [decrease] by 33 percent if they have an [extra] hour or more of sleep, compared to the group that did not have an hour or more."
Begun in 2001, the study involved 495 men and women, and a correlation appeared between less sleep and higher calcium deposits.
Coronary calcification, Leszczyszyn explains, begins when fatty plaque (such as cholesterol) enters the arteries and then develops soft aggregates that mature and harden with calcium deposits. Dr. Douglas W. Puryear, medical director for the Sleep Disorder Centers of Pulmonary Associates of Virginia, says calcifications increase the likelihood for decreased blood flow and can cause erratic heart rhythms.
Puryear adds that insufficient sleep triggers the outpouring of stress hormones and cells that inform the body of harmful agents, which put stress on the heart.
Leszczyszyn recommends seven to eight hours of sleep per night and a consistent wake-up time. For more information, visit sleepfoundation.org.