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Sleeping less than six hours a night may take a toll on heart health

Poor sleep may affect heart health

It's no secret that many Americans are sleep deprived, and there's no shortage of research on how bad that can be for your health. Now, a new study sheds light on how a lack of sleep can harm the heart.

As a nurse in a sleep clinic, Scott Moran knows how important a good night's rest is professionally and personally. 

"I was diagnosed about 15 years ago with sleep apnea," he told CBS News. "I finally had an answer to why I was so tired."

New research shows people who sleep less than six hours a night may be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, finds an association between poor sleep quality and having more plaque buildup in the arteries throughout the body.

"Having plaque in the arteries to the heart is what predisposes to heart attacks, and having plaque in the brain is what causes most forms of stroke," said Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Previous studies have shown that lack of sleep can also increase other heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, inflammation and obesity.

However, too much sleep could also be bad for the heart. The latest study suggests sleeping more than eight hours a night may increase plaque in the arteries, especially for women.

"Probably the sweet spot for sleep duration is around 7-8 hours, but I should say that is 7-8 hours of really good sleep because again the quality of sleep matters. It's not just the quantity," Bhatt said.

That's the amount of sleep Moran aims to get each night. He encourages anyone having trouble sleeping to see a sleep specialist.

"Snoring, waking up more tired than when you went to bed, any symptoms like that, your alertness doesn't seem [right], you're having memory-loss issues — definitely get it checked," he said.

With the help of a CPAP machine to help with his sleep apnea, Moran now says he feels well-rested every day.

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