No one doubts the vast benefits of adequate sleep. It’s your body’s time to restore and recharge, playing a key role in nearly all aspects of physical health. For example, sleep helps support healthy brain function and important aspects of your metabolism such as controlling appetite and blood sugar which, if not controlled, may increase the risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Experts recommend that most adults get seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. But, if a good night’s sleep has been hard to come by, this could also be increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke. While there are many other factors besides adequate sleep affecting heart health (i.e. diet, exercise, stress, etc.), the cardiovascular system depends on you obtaining sufficient sleep. Studies are showing that disrupted sleep plays a role in cardiac disease risk in several ways, such as increasing atherosclerosis. Common sleep disturbances are insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which reduce both the amount and quality of sleep, ultimately in time affecting your heart health.
Sleep’s role in heart health
When you sleep, this is the time for your body to recuperate. When you have adequate, uninterrupted sleep, you will go through the various sleep stages, one of which is called the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stage. During this sleep stage, your heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, and breathing stabilizes. These important changes help reduce both the stress and strain on your heart from the day before.
However, inadequate or disrupted sleep means your body will not be spending enough time in the deep stages of NREM sleep, necessary for good heart health. That’s why chronic sleep deprivation is linked to many heart issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, obesity, diabetes, and stroke.
Insufficient sleep’s impact on blood pressure
When you get a good, night’s sleep, your blood pressure will decrease by about 10-20%, known as nocturnal dipping. But when experiencing poor sleep, blood pressure may not reduce during the night. Studies are showing that blood pressure that remains elevated during the night is linked to overall hypertension. The lack of a nocturnal dip in blood pressure due to poor sleep can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, along with kidney problems, and a reduction of blood flow to the brain.
Middle-aged people are affected most by lack of sleep and high blood pressure. Other individuals also more likely affected include those working long hours in high-stress jobs and those with other risk factors for developing hypertension.
Insufficient sleep’s impact on coronary heart disease
The number one cause of death in the U.S. is coronary heart disease. Over years, plaque can build up in the arteries, causing narrowing and hardening of these arteries known as atherosclerosis. Arteries that are no longer pliable and free of obstruction, makes it difficult for the heart to pump sufficient blood and oxygen throughout the body.
Research has shown that sleep’s role has to do with poor sleep triggering chronic inflammation that contributes to the formation of plaque buildup leading eventually resulting in atherosclerosis.
It’s also known that individuals with hypertension may also be sleep deprived. Hypertension increases the strain on arteries, affecting their ability to carry blood to the heart, contributing to heart disease.
Insufficient sleep’s impact on heart failure
About 6 million people in the U.S. have a condition called heart failure. Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s need for blood and oxygen.
An observational study of more than 400,000 people found a strong link between disrupted sleep patterns and heart failure. Those who slept less than seven hours each night were at an increased risk for heart failure. This same study found people who also had insomnia, daytime sleepiness, snored, or went to bed late at night, were more likely to develop heart failure.
Insufficient sleep’s impact on heart attacks
According to the CDC, every year, more than 800,000 people have a heart attack in the U.S. Also known as a myocardial infarction, a heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked. Lack of sleep, defined as less than six hours a night, has been shown to increase the risk of heart attacks by 20%. Insufficient sleep disrupts the sleep stage of rapid eye movement (REM) which can increase the risk of a heart attack.
Insufficient sleep’s impact on stroke
Each year, between 700,000 to 800,000 U.S. individuals suffer a stroke. Five hundred thousand are first occurrences while the rest are repeat strokes. When the blood flow to the brain is cut off, is when a person will have a stroke. This sudden shutting off of blood flow causes brain cells to die from lack of oxygen.
When a person lacks sleep, this has a higher correlation of having a stroke. That’s because sleep deprivation increase high blood pressure risk, a leading risk factor for strokes. In addition, by contributing to plaque buildup in the arteries, insufficient sleep may make it easier for blockages to occur resulting in mini-strokes or a major stroke.
Tips on getting a good night’s sleep
Adequate sleep is necessary for good health including our skin health and appearance. The average adult requires between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. If you are lacking on that amount and need help to achieve, here are some tips on having a better night’s sleep:
- Stick to a sleep schedule. As much as you can, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends.
- Always make your bed every day. Yes, this makes a difference. There appears to be a correlation between a clean sleeping environment and how well we sleep throughout the night. Clean your bedsheets often and tidy up the bed before going out for the day.
- Resist afternoon naps. As tempting as they are, taking a snooze mid-afternoon, can disrupt your ability to fall asleep at night. If you must rest during the day, make it no longer than 20 minutes.
- Avoid heavy meals and caffeine before bedtime. Eating a big meal right before falling asleep can cause discomfort with indigestion making it harder to fall asleep. Eat at least 2 to 3 hours before crawling into bed for the night.
- Keep all electronics out of your bedroom. This even includes the TV. Having a habit of watching TV or browsing through social media can make it hard to fall asleep due to the particular type of light emanating from the screens.
- Each day, get in some exercise. Vigorous activity is best but even light exercise can be helpful.
- Keep your bedroom set at a cool, comfortable temperature. When drowsy, your body temperature goes down and then rises again once morning comes. To avoid restlessness throughout the night, it is recommended to set your thermostat to 65 degrees in your bedroom.
- Sleep in light clothing. Wear comfortable, lightweight clothing to bed. Bundling up too warm will only make it harder to fall asleep.