Regularly getting a good night’s sleep slashes your risk of having a stroke, a study suggests. French researchers defined the best type of shut-eye as lasting for between seven and eight hours.
They also said the best sleepers rarely toss and turn during the night.
Scientists monitored the nighttime habits of more than 7,000 over-50s to uncover the link.
The study, which tracked participants for almost a decade, showed people with the best quality sleep were 75 per cent less likely to suffer a stroke.
Experts now say the majority of strokes — and even cases of heart disease — could be prevented if everyone was a good sleeper.
French researchers, who monitored the shut-eye habits of more than 7,000 over-50s, found sub-optimal sleep is linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke Those who reported getting the best sleep were three-quarters less likely to suffer heart complications than those who got the worst
HOW MUCH SLEEP SHOULD I GET?
Most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep every night.
Going to bed and getting up at a similar time each night programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.
But few people manage to stick to strict bedtime patterns.
To get to sleep easier, the NHS advises winding down, such as by taking a bath, reading and avoiding electronic devices.
The health service also recommends keeping the bedroom sleep-friendly by removing TVs and gadgets from the room and keeping it dark and tidy.
For people who struggle to sleep, the NHS says keeping a sleep diary can uncover lifestyle habits or activities that contribute to sleepiness.
Study author Dr Aboubakari Nambiema, of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, said: ‘The low prevalence of good sleepers was expected given our busy, 24/7 lives.
‘The importance of sleep quality and quantity for heart health should be taught early in life when healthy behaviours become established.
‘Minimising night-time noise and stress at work can both help improve sleep.’
Dozens of studies have linked not getting enough sleep with heart disease and high blood pressure — which increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
It is not clear exactly how sleep helps the heart.
But not getting enough shut-eye raises the risk of developing unhealthy habits that can harm the heart, such as eating badly and not exercising enough.
Dr Nambiema and colleagues examined the sleeping habits of 7,200 participants included in an earlier study.
The volunteers, who were aged 50 to 75 and in good heart health, underwent a physical examination and were quizzed on their sleep habits and medical history.
They shared how long they slept, whether they were a morning person and if they suffered insomnia, sleep apnoea or tiredness in the daytime.
For each of these five factors, the participants were awarded one point if their sleep was optimal and zero if it was not.
Sleeping for seven to eight hours per night, being a morning person and not having insomnia, daytime sleepiness or sleep apnoea would receive five marks.
Zero to one marks was considered poor.
The researchers monitored the patients and compared their scores against cases of heart disease and stroke.
The findings, set to be presented at European Society of Cardiology Congress in Barcelona on Saturday, show that 10 per cent of participants had an optimal sleep score and eight per cent were poor sleepers.
Over the course of the study, 274 suffered coronary heart disease or a stroke.
Those who scored five points were 75 per cent less likely to suffer from the heart complications, compared to those who scored a zero or one, the team found.
And the risk fell by 22 per cent for every one point rise in sleep score.
The findings suggests that heart disease and stroke cases could be slashed by 72 per cent if everyone had optimal sleep scores, the researchers said.
The participants completed additional sleep questionnaires at two follow up visits, with 25 per cent reporting their sleep had worsened, while 23 per cent said it improved.
The team found that every one point increase in sleep score over time was linked with a seven per cent fall in the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.
Dr Nambiema said: ‘Our study illustrates the potential for sleeping well to preserve heart health and suggests that improving sleep is linked with lower risks of coronary heart disease and stroke.
‘We also found that the vast majority of people have sleep difficulties. Given that cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death worldwide, greater awareness is needed on the importance of good sleep for maintaining a healthy heart.’