Can Sleeping Patterns Affect Your Cholesterol

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How well or poorly you sleep can affect your cholesterol. Consistently getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night – or more than eight hours – can worsen cholesterol.  In May 2008, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) published the results of the study, Associations of Usual Sleep Duration with Serum Lipid and Lipoprotein Levels, which analyzed data collected in Japan from 1,666 men and 2,329 women aged 20 years or older. Interestingly, it showed that poor sleep patterns have an adverse affect on cholesterol in both men and women, though the actual cholesterol changes were different in women than men. How well – or poorly – you sleep is a factor to consider if you are trying to lower cholesterol.

How Does Poor Sleep Affect Women?

In the Japanese study, women getting fewer than 6 hours of sleep on a regular basis had higher triglycerides and lower HDL (good) cholesterol than those getting 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night. Specifically, women who slept 5 hours a night had triglycerides levels that were 30.5 mg/dL higher than those who slept 6 to 7 hours.  In women, sleep deprivation also slightly depressed HDL (good) cholesterol: women who slept 5 or fewer hours per night had HDL cholesterol levels 3 mg/dL higher than those who slept 6 to 7 hours. Interestingly, similar patterns of negative impact on cholesterol were seen among women sleeping 8 or more hours per night.  In this study, poor sleep patterns did not affect LDL (bad) cholesterol among women.

How Does Poor Sleep Affect Men?

This same Japanese study shows that sleep patterns also affect cholesterol in men, though not in the same way. In men, lack of sleep – or too much sleep – affects only LDL (bad) cholesterol, not HDL cholesterol or triglycerides. Men who slept 8 hours or more per night had LDL cholesterol levels that were 9.2 mg/dL lower than those who slept 6 to 7 hours.

Why Does Poor Sleep Negatively Affect Cholesterol?

While there is likely to be a metabolic relationship between sleep and cholesterol measurements such as triglycerides, this link has not been clearly established.  Thus, the relationship between sleep and cholesterol is best explained at the moment by lifestyle. For example, in the Japanese study, there was a high correlation between the women and men who slept 6 hours or fewer per night and several unhealthy habits that can increase cholesterol.  Many of those men and women who slept fewer than 6 hours also reported in the study that they skipped meals, ate out once or more per day, and/or experienced high levels of psychological stress.

The study authors state, “It is well known that these serum lipid and lipoprotein levels are strongly influenced by lifestyles. Smoking decreases the level of HDL cholesterol and increases the level of triglyceride in blood, whereas alcohol consumption increases the levels of both. Exercise increases the HDL cholesterol level and decreases the triglyceride level in blood. In addition, alcohol consumption is reported to decrease the level of LDL cholesterol.”

Does Sleep Apnea Affect Cholesterol?

Sleep apnea does indeed negatively affect cholesterol levels, specifically HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides, and can be improved with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment.  As reported Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Cholesterol, a German study, “looked at over 400 patients with varying degrees of OSA and concluded that the more severe the OSA, the lower the HDL and higher the triglyceride levels. There was no significant relationship between OSA and total or LDL cholesterol levels. A second part of this German study evaluated the effects of positive airway pressure on lipid levels. In these 86 patients in whom they followed while receiving OSA treatment, the authors observed that as OSA improved, HDL levels rose ~6%. This is not a huge difference but was still significant nonetheless. In the following year, a Greek study also examined the effects of CPAP on cholesterol in patients with OSA. They concluded that CPAP over a 6 month period did lower overall cholesterol and increased HDL levels.”

Can Cholesterol Medications Affect Sleep Patterns?

The cholesterol-lowering statin medication Zocor (simvastatin) has been proven to disrupt sleep.  In a 2007 US study of 1,106 healthy adult men and women, study author Dr. Beatrice Golomb, of the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine., stated, “We did show significant worsening in both sleep quality outcome and sleep problem categories in patients taking simvastatin. Less sleep quality and more sleep problems.” Thus the very act of taking a cholesterol-lowering statin may worsen the condition, though Dr. Sidney Smith, past president of the American Heart Association said, “This doesn’t mean that patients experiencing sleep problems should take themselves off Zocor or another statin. The broader benefit of decreasing heart attack and stroke must be taken into account.” If you are on a statin and are experiencing sleep issues, discuss with your doctor changing the statin medication you take.


It has been proven that too little sleep – or even too much sleep – can have a negative effect on cholesterol.  Examining sleep quality along with lifestyle choices like smoking, stress, alcohol, obesity, and lack of exercise is important when trying to lower cholesterol.

Did you know?

The so-called U-shaped association between too-much or too-little sleep and a negative effect on cholesterol has also been proven in other diseases.  It’s been proven that too-little or too-much sleep increases cholesterol. It’s additionally been established that too-little or too-much sleep increases the risk of diabetes, obesity, hypertension and (related to cholesterol) cardiovascular disease.


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