How women’s poor sleep can increase risk of heart disease

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The importance of a good night's sleep has been reported in study after study, but a new one from researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center uncovers why women can be at risk for developing heart disease if they sleep poorly.

In the study published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers reviewed the correlations in general diet quality and several parts of sleep quality.

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The study reviewed the eating and sleeping habits of an ethnically diverse group of 495 women ranging in age from 20 to 76. They participated in the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Strategically Focused Research Network at Columbia. Researchers analyzed how long it took to fall asleep, the quality of sleep and insomnia. Additionally, women reported on the type and amounts of food they usually consumed throughout the year. Those reports allowed researchers to measure participants’ usual dietary patterns.

“Poor sleep quality may lead to excessive food and calorie intake by stimulating hunger signals or suppressing signals of fullness,” said Dr. Faris Zuraikat, who is one of the lead authors of the study. “Fullness is largely affected by the weight or volume of food consumed, and it could be that women with insomnia consume a greater amount of food in an effort to feel full.”

The results showed that women who had worse general quality of sleep ate more added sugars, which are linked to diabetes and obesity. Additionally, women who took longer to fall asleep ate more food by weight and consumed more calories. Women with more severe symptoms of insomnia ate more food by weight and fewer unsaturated fats compared to women with milder forms of insomnia.

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“However, it’s also possible that poor diet has a negative impact on women’s sleep quality,” added Zuraikat, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Eating more could also cause gastrointestinal discomfort, for instance, making it harder to fall asleep or remain asleep.”

Brooke Aggarwal, also a lead author of the study, said more research “should test whether therapies that improve sleep quality can promote cardiometabolic health in women.”

Aggarwal, assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, cited the fact obesity is “a well-established risk factor for heart disease” in her call for what future studies should test in regard to whether or not therapies that improve sleep quality “can promote cardiometabolic health in women.”

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