The study focused on 4,000 people with no known history of heart disease. Their average age was 46, and two-thirds of participants were men.
Participants wore an actigraph, a tool used to measure activity, for seven days to study their sleep. They also had 3D heart ultrasound and cardiac CT scans performed to look for heart disease.
Results of the study published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed people who slept fewer than six hours a night were 27 percent more likely to develop atherosclerosis - a buildup of plaque in the body's arteries - compared to those who got between seven and eight hours of sleep.
"This study emphasizes we have to include sleep as one of the weapons we use to fight heart disease - a factor we are compromising every day," said senior study author Jose M. Ordovas, a researcher at Madrid's Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III (CNIC), in a statement.
The quality of sleep matters, too, said the study. Participants with a poor quality of sleep were 34 percent more likely to develop atherosclerosis than those who had a good night's rest.
This is not the first study to suggest poor sleep or a lack of sleep could hurt your body. Three studies presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology last September found getting between six to eight hours of sleep a night could lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Meanwhile, a study published in April suggests when you go to bed is important. The joint study by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom found people who stayed up later had a higher mortality rate than those who go to sleep early.
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