Heart attacks happen when an artery supplying your heart with blood and oxygen becomes blocked, usually by a build-up of fatty plaques called cholesterol. Heart attacks fall under the umbrella of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels. A common misconception is that heart attacks erupt without warning.
However, research suggests your risk of having a heart attack can be signalled through subtle bodily changes.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, irregular sleeping patterns may put you at a higher risk of a cardiovascular event.
A research team, led by Dr Tianyi Huang at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, set out to explore whether irregular sleep patterns increased the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular events.
The research team analysed data from nearly 2,000 men and women, ages 45 to 84, who were enrolled in NHLBI’s Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis.
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The researchers then followed the study participants for about five years to see whether they developed cardiovascular disease.
Over this period, 111 participants had cardiovascular events, including heart attack, stroke, or death from a cardiovascular cause.
Participants with the most irregular sleep schedules were nearly twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as those with more regular sleep patterns.
This remained true even after adjusting for factors that affect heart disease or sleep, such as the breathing disorder sleep apnea.
The association between irregular sleep and cardiovascular disease was stronger among minority populations, particularly African Americans, than white participants.
The findings suggest that an irregular sleep pattern may be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
It’s unclear why irregular sleep patterns may have this effect but it may be due to disruptions to the body’s natural sleep-wake cycles, called circadian rhythms, suggests the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“Heart rate, blood pressure, and other cardiovascular functions follow circadian patterns,” says the NIH.
How to prevent having a heart attack
Eating an unhealthy diet that is high in fat is absolute no-no, according to the NHS.
As the health body explains, a high-fat diet will make hardening of the arteries worse and increase your risk of a heart attack.
Instead, you should aim to follow a Mediterranean-style diet, which is high in unsaturated fat, says the health body.
A Mediterranean-style diet consists of eating more bread, fruit, vegetables and fish, and less meat.