How Sleep Affects Your Cholesterol Levels

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on July 18, 2023
4 min read

Do you get the right amount of rest on most nights? Your sleep quality -- including getting too little or too much sleep -- affects many aspects of your health, including your cholesterol levels.

To be heart healthy, adults should have:

High LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, causes fatty plaque to build up in your arteries, which can lead to heart disease. HDL is the “good” cholesterol because it helps clear out LDL to prevent heart disease. High triglycerides may cause plaque buildup in your arteries, too.

Sleep is a time when your body restores and recharges. It releases hormones that help your tissues and cells repair after the stress of your waking hours. Your blood pressure drops, your heart rate slows, and your breathing relaxes. Your heart recovers from its hard work during the day.

Most adults should aim for 7-9 hours of restorative sleep each night.

What happens if you don’t get enough of that rest? You may develop health problems that can lead to high cholesterol.

In a study of 2,705 adults, people who tended to sleep too little each night were more likely to have high triglycerides and low HDL, or “good,” cholesterol, although their LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels weren’t affected by their sleep. People who slept 8 hours a night had the highest HDL numbers.

Why does sleep affect cholesterol? If you don’t get enough shuteye, key hormones can get out of whack. Your body may produce too much of the stress hormone cortisol and the appetite-boosting hormone ghrelin, but too little leptin, which regulates body weight. This hormone imbalance can drive your cholesterol out of balance too.

Poor sleep quality may affect cholesterol, too. People with interrupted sleep because of sleep apnea -- when breathing stops and starts throughout the night -- often have high total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides in their blood, and low levels of HDL cholesterol. People with sleep apnea tend to be overweight, too, which may lead to high cholesterol.

A lack of sleep may affect men’s and women’s cholesterol in different ways. In one large study, men who slept less than 6 hours on most nights had higher LDL cholesterol, but women who slept the same amount had lower LDL. Men and women who snored during sleep had lower levels of HDL cholesterol.

Sleep deprivation or staying up all night may make cholesterol levels go up, too. In one study, sleep-deprived mice had higher blood cholesterol and more cholesterol buildup in their livers. The rodents also had lower amounts of a liver enzyme that helps process cholesterol.

The sleep-deprived mice also had dips in two hormones, leptin and resistin, in their blood. Leptin, in particular, may be linked to high cholesterol because it helps regulate your metabolism and appetite.

Oversleeping can affect cholesterol, too. In one study of adults in Japan, women who slept 8 or more hours per night tended to have low HDL cholesterol, and women who either slept less than 5 hours or 8 or more hours per night had high triglycerides. Men who slept too little had a greater risk of high LDL cholesterol than those who slept 8 or more hours per night. LDL cholesterol levels were the same for women who slept too much or too little.

In another study of older adults from China, people who slept 9 or more hours a night were more likely to have high triglycerides and obesity.

To help you get the right amount of high-quality sleep each night:

  • Set daily times to go to bed and wake up.
  • Plan to sleep at least 7 but no longer than 8 hours per night.
  • Don’t get less sleep on weeknights then try to catch up on weekends.
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. If it helps, turn on a fan, install light-blocking curtains or shades, and use earplugs.
  • Read a book or take a bubble bath to relax before bedtime.
  • Don’t leave your smartphone next to your bed. You may be tempted to pick it up and scan your email or social media.
  • Don’t go to bed hungry or too soon after you’ve eaten a heavy meal.
  • Cut back on alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine products that can ruin sleep.
  • Before bed, ease stress and muscle tension with gentle stretches.
  • If you’re stressed about the next day, write in a journal or fill out your to-do list, then put it in the nightstand drawer. You can tackle it the next day.

What about sleeping pills? Medications can help you get rest during a stressful period or when travel upsets your regular schedule. But for the long term, healthy habits are the best way to promote a good night’s sleep. But if you often have trouble sleeping, see your doctor. They can examine you to find out the causes of your problems. They may prescribe medication to help you get the rest you need.