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(CNN) - If you are a middle-aged adult with hypertension, type 2 diabetes or with an existing heart disease and also normally sleep less than six hours each night, you could be a candidate for cancer or a premature death from heart disease.
These are the disturbing results of a sleep test study conducted on 16,000 adults between the ages of 20 and 74 and who were followed up for 20 years.
"This is the fourth study, including ours, which clearly indicates that sleeping less than six hours a day can really lead to the development of arterial disease and deaths related to cardiovascular diseases," according to renowned cardiologist Dr. Valentin Fuster , director of cardiology at Mount Sinai in New York. Fuster was not involved in the study.
Sleep is essential for the rejuvenation of the body. Deep sleep, the type of sleep that happens only after a complete cycle of sleep, is necessary for the body to release hormones designed to repair cells and build tissue in the body and brain.
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Risk factors + lack of sleep = increased risk of death
The new study, published Wednesday in the journal of the American Heart Association, found that people who suffer from hypertension or suffer from type 2 diabetes and sleep less than six hours are twice as likely to die of heart disease or a spill.
This is particularly negative news if we consider that approximately 45 percent of Americans suffer from stage 2 hypertension or type 2 diabetes or both at the same time, according to study lead author Julio Fernández-Mendoza, a sleep psychologist at the center of medical health of Penn State S. Hershey, in the state of Pennsylvania.
However, if people sleep more than six hours, the risk of premature death disappears, according to Fernández-Mendoza.
The study took into account sleep apnea, smoking, mental health and other diseases and excluded anyone over 75 years old. More than half of the participants in this study were women, and the average age was 47 years.
Existing disease + lack of sleep = high risk of cancer
The new study also found a relationship with cancer. People with an existing coronary heart disease or a history of a stroke that sleeps less than six hours have three times the chances of dying from cancer.
Can lack of sleep cause cancer? No, not at all, according to Fernández-Mendoza. What represents a risk factor is heart disease, since lack of sleep can make the condition worse.
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"We are not saying that lack of sleep is a cause of cancer," Fernández-Mendoza explained.
“We know that people with heart disease are more likely to have immune problems and develop cancer. And we know that there is a close link between sleep and the immune system - people who sleep less have higher levels of inflammation. ”
"There is a lot of evidence that points out that people in their adult or middle-aged life who have risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension or even diabetes are at greater risk of developing cancer in the future."
With luck, clinical professionals will begin to evaluate patients for signs that indicate lack of sleep to help identify people with cardiovascular diseases that have a higher risk of developing cancer and die of cancer, said Fernández-Mendoza.
Lack of sleep = premature diseases
The study also found that people deprived of sleep without risk factors for cardiovascular disease apparently did not have an increased risk of developing and dying of cancer or developing heart disease or stroke and dying as a result, said Fernández-Mendoza . But the study was observational and did not perform extensive tests on underlying diseases.
Other studies have not been so positive.
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An investigation published in January calculated the frequency and rate of progression of underlying vascular lesions or the initial stage of plaque that can block arteries, in some 4,000 people with no history of heart disease. In addition, they connected sleep monitors to each of these subjects to check their sleep for a period of seven nights.
"We measure the degree of disease present in the arteries that supply blood to the brain, legs, main aorta and coronary arteries," according to Dr. Fuster of Mount Sinai, who was one of the authors of the study.
The increase in plaque throughout the body increases the danger of spills, digestive problems and poor circulation that leads to numbness and pain in the extremities, as well as cardiovascular diseases.
After calculating traditional risk factors, "we found that the disease was present if the number of hours of sleep was less than six hours, compared to those who slept between six to eight hours," said Fuster, who is also the editor in chief of the journal of the American College of Cardiology.
People who sleep less than six hours were 27 percent more likely to suffer atherosclerosis throughout the body than those who sleep between seven and eight hours.
"More than eight hours was a bit detrimental, so there seems to be a window of opportunities to be healthy," said Fuster.
The study also shows that people with a “fractured” dream, which is defined as moving or waking up during the sleep phases, also have high chances of getting premature illnesses. Participants who suffered from fractured sleep were 34 percent more likely to build this plaque than people who sleep well.
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What to do?
If you have an existing cardiovascular condition, hypertension or type 2 diabetes and you sleep little, what both doctors recommend is that you consult with a sleep specialist to determine what the problem is.
"The answer is not to provide sleeping pills," says Fuster. "We have to be very intelligent when it comes to understanding why someone sleeps less and that varies with each individual."
For example, many overweight people suffer from sleep apnea, something that can be corrected with oxygen masks. Others may suffer from stress or anxiety, something that causes insomnia, and that could be solved with cognitive behavioral therapy and better sleep hygiene.
Other people may be drinking too much coffee or drinking alcohol to help them sleep. The use of alcohol can cause you to wake up in a short period of time and when you fall asleep again, it is usually of poor quality.
Talking with a specialist can help identify your sleep problems and find solutions with appropriate interventions, according to Fuster.
Even those of us who don't have clear risk factors need to take our sleep behaviors seriously to stay healthy. The good news is that we can train our brain to improve our sleep, in the same way we train to learn and achieve other skills.
One of the first tasks is to establish the place where you sleep and also a relaxing routine at bedtime. Precisely that repetition will train the brain to recognize that it is time to relax and sleep.
Start with your bedroom. Check that your bed and pillows are comfortable and the room is cold: it is best that the temperature is between 15 and 19 degrees Celsius. Do not watch TV or work in your room: you must train your brain to think that your bedroom is just the place to sleep.
Be sure to eliminate all bright lights, even blue light from cell phones or laptops can be harmful. If that is difficult to achieve, consider using something to cover your eyes and dark curtains to keep the bedroom dark.
Try to eliminate disturbing sounds too. Earplugs or white noise machines before bedtime can be beneficial, something you can create yourself with a humidifier or fan.
During the day, try to have enough daily exposure to natural light, something that will help improve your circadian rhythm.
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Develop a routine
Try to establish a bedtime routine that you can follow each night. Take a hot bath or shower, read a book, listen to relaxing music, meditate or do light stretching exercises. All are good options.
Food and drinks you should avoid
We have already talked about alcohol consumption. Other suggestions for good sleep include avoiding stimulants such as nicotine and coffee after midnight, especially if you suffer from insomnia.
Also avoid heavy or greasy meals before bedtime. If you have a digestive problem, eating fried, greasy, spicy foods, citrus drinks or even soda can cause heartburn and indigestion.
Exercise is the key to promoting good sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, even 10 minutes of hiking, biking or other aerobic exercise can "drastically improve the quality of nighttime sleep."
Follow all these steps and you will be on track to reduce your sleep deficiency and improve your health.