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Sleepless nights can disrupt healthy heartbeat, internal clock

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This is American Heart Month and new findings published by the American Heart Association showed irregular sleeping patterns — over years, weeks or even days — can affect a person’s heart health.

The body’s reactions to physical, mental, and behavioral changes within a 24-hour cycle influence its internal clock or circadian rhythm.

Dr. Sandeep Dube, cardiologist, and physician executive for the Community Heart and Vascular Hospital in Indianapolis, said in the study researchers found a stable circadian rhythm can mean a 40% to 60% lower risk of heart disease.

“If the participants had irregular circadian heart rhythms and had inefficient sleep, they actually increased the risk of heart disease by more than threefold,” Dube reported.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Indiana, with 191 deaths per 100,000 Hoosiers. Dube added stress and a lack of quality sleep can also increase the risk for other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. According to the report, heart failure affects almost 6 million Americans over age 20 and is projected to increase to 8 million by 2030.

Other influences on the circadian rhythm are the amounts of exposure to daylight and darkness, and the physical activity a person does, as well as the types and quantities of food they eat. Dube advised focusing on a healthy diet and doing 30 to 40 minutes of daily moderate exercise, like walking four to five days a week.

“We, as cardiologists, we have been aware that for a long time people who don’t eat right, don’t do physical activity right, you know, whose sleep at night is disturbed, they do have more heart disease,” Dube outlined.

He added creating regular, healthy routines can lead to a healthier life. The National Sleep Foundation advises putting devices away an hour before bedtime and establishing a consistent routine for winding down at day’s end as keys to getting a good night’s rest.