(CNN) – If you needed another reason to get enough sleep, here it is: It can improve your heart health.
The American Heart Association has added sleep duration to its heart health checklist. It’s part of “Life’s Essential 8,” a questionnaire that measures eight key areas to determine a person’s cardiovascular health.
The updated list was published Wednesday in Circulation, the AHA’s peer-reviewed journaland replaced the association’s “Life’s Simple 7” questionnaire, which has been in use since 2010.
In addition to sleep, the new list retained the original categories: diet, physical activity, nicotine exposure, body mass index, blood lipids, blood sugar and blood pressure.
Sleep duration makes the list after researchers looked at new scientific findings over the past decade that found sleep plays an important role in heart health, according to Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer of the ‘AHA for prevention.
“People who don’t get enough sleep have a higher likelihood of problems like obesity, hypertension, and diabetes,” Sanchez said.
What is healthy sleep?
Adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a pulmonary and sleep intensive care specialist, clinical associate professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
However, people need quality sleep to reap the benefits, said Dasgupta, who is also a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
A person goes through several sleep cycles consisting of non-REM and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, Dasgupta said. There are three stages of non-REM sleep, and in the third you enter deep sleep, which restores the body both mentally and physically, he explained.
If you keep waking up, it will prevent you from going to those deeper stages, Dasgupta said. This can lead to higher blood pressure and increased blood sugar, which is associated with diabetes and obesity, he said. These conditions contribute to reduced heart health and increase the risk of developing heart failure, Dasgupta said.
Several other categories have been changed, including diet, nicotine exposure, blood lipids and blood sugar.
The AHA has come up with a new way to assess the quality of people’s diets, Sanchez said.
“We recommend a 16 point quiz which can be used at regular intervals to assess healthy eating habits focused on weekly amounts of food,” he said.
Nicotine exposure used to be centered around tobacco smoking, but now includes exposure to second-hand smoke as well as vaping, Sanchez said.
Blood lipids will be measured using non-HDL cholesterol rather than total cholesterol. According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The measurement of blood glucose levels has been extended to include hemoglobin A1c levels, which measure a person’s blood sugar levels over the previous three months, According to the CDC. The test is often used for people managing their diabetes as well as for diagnosing prediabetes and diabetes.