The relationship between poor sleep and health issues is strong – do you know how to protect yourself?
Do you know how to make your heart healthy and happy? Start by making sleep a top priority.
A growing body of scientific data confirms that poor sleep quality can seriously impact your cardiovascular wellness – short term and long term. According to one British study, just a single night of disrupted sleep is enough to make your blood vessels less flexible, which can raise the risk of heart disease. The good news is getting enough rest each night can reverse the problem.
That’s just one of the consequences of poor sleep. It’s also linked to the development of high blood pressure, a risk factor linked to cardiovascular disease (the leading cause of death among Americans).
With 40% of American adults getting less than the recommended amount of 7-9 hours of sleep each night, a large portion of the population is at risk to develop heart disease as they age. And as the average amount of time spent sleeping has steadily declined decade over decade, the situation is getting worse, not better.
“Sleep is an often overlooked key to a healthy heart,” says Chris Brantner, certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo. “Regardless of age, weight, or smoking habits, people who are sleep deprived are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Studies suggest that people who get fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke as people who get 6-8 hours.”
Connecting the dots from poor sleep to heart disease
How does sleep impact your heart? There’s a myriad of ways. Sleep-starved people have higher levels of stress hormones and inflammation – both key players in heart disease.
Studies also confirm that the link between heart disease and obesity is a close one – as is the relationship between obesity and poor quality of sleep. Tired, sleep-deprived people tend to make poorer food choices, opting for sweet, fatty foods instead of fruits and vegetables.
Further studies have shown that women are more at risk for heart disease than men if they don’t get enough sleep. Researchers involved in a Journal of Psychiatric Research study found that women who reported poor sleep quality had more inflammation linked to cardiovascular disease and stroke than men who also reported less than ideal sleeping habits.
“Sleep provides the restorative resources for the body to recover from the day’s activities and prepare for the next,” explains Dr. Marc Leavey, primary care internist, Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville, Maryland. “Although the mechanisms are not clear, research has shown that those who do not get a good night’s sleep exhibit higher rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and strokes. Both the quality and quantity of sleep should be as close to ideal as possible.”
Late nights and disrupted sleep routines that cut two hours from the optimal night’s sleep is associated with increased levels of coronary artery calcification, which may well be involved in the development of coronary artery disease. According to Dr. Leavey, every hour cut from the night can increase mortality risk by 15%.
Another clue to potential heart health issues is sleep apnea. It’s a dangerous condition that causes pauses in breathing 5 to 30 seconds per hour during sleep. It causes disruptive slumber and is associated with high blood pressure, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and heart failure, according to the American Heart Association.
But too much sleep is a risk as well
More recent evidence has been published about the dangers of oversleeping, which is a very real and risky sleep disorder. Researchers found that people who slept 9 or more hours each night risk calcium buildup in the walls of the heart arteries and stiffer leg arteries than folks who normally get 7 hours of sleep nightly. Arteries are like highways for the body, crucial for carrying blood to the heart and all vital organs. Supple, flexible arteries are crucial for making sure everything flows where it should – smoothly.
Morgan Statt, a health and safety investigator with ConsumerSafety.org, points out that some studies report that those who sleep 9 or more hours each night are at a 38% greater risk of developing coronary heart disease and are at a 68% greater risk of stroke.
But playing math roulette with your sleep is not going to work. You can’t make up for missing 2 hours of sleep as easily as you might think. “Many people believe that they can shift sleep when needed, or credit and debit sleep as with money in a bank,” says Dr. Leavey. “There is some evidence that cutting sleep short a bit during the week can result in some “make up” sleep on the weekend, and that individuals can become acclimated to such a schedule. They still may need to take occasional naps during the week, however, to keep the body clock in proper sync.”
The easiest way to ensure your heart health through sleep is to make sure you have enough of it. Aim for at least 7 hours each night to keep things ticking along as they should.
12 heart-health boosting sleep habits to make your own
Invest time and energy now in these sleep habits to reap the rewards of a healthy heart for many years to come:
- Exercise and eat a healthy diet. As Morgan Statt with ConsumerSafety.org points out weight gain is a key factor in poor sleep quality and can be avoided by simple lifestyle changes.
- Try guided meditation before bed to ease stress. Even just 10 minutes of a simple calming activity can eliminate the stresses of the day and lead to better quality sleep. Popular apps like Headspace and Calm offer a wide array of meditation options.
- Keep it clean. Change your sheets, pillows, pillowcases, and blankets regularly. A cleaner environment is conducive to better and more productive ZZZs, according to Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics.
- Quiet please. Practice a silent or spoken 5-minute meditation as part of your bedtime routine. It can even be under your blanket or on the edge of your bed. Or try a sleep-inducing podcast.
- A little dab will do ya. One or two drops of lavender oil on your pillow will help you sleep easier and better, and provide a wonderful scent as you drift off, Backe recommends.
- Stick to it. “One of the simplest, and most important, tips is to set a sleep schedule and stick to it,” says Dr. Leavey. “Get your body used to bedding down and waking up at the same hour every day, even weekends. Have a sleep routine, wash around or take a soothing bath, change into bedclothes, and go to bed.”
- Clock block. Ideally, you should do all that you can to optimize your night’s sleep. If you use an alarm clock, turn it so that you can’t see the numbers and stress about what time it is, according to Dr. Leavey.
- Calm down. Don’t exercise or use the computer or even your phone an hour before retiring. The stimulation of exercise or the light from the screen can inhibit you falling asleep.
- Consume with care. Be aware of what you put into your body. Caffeine can disrupt sleep, so keep the coffee, tea, certain types of soft drinks and even strong chocolate in the early part of your day, and not within 6-8 hours of bedtime. Alcohol may make you drowsy, but the metabolites can wake you, and the diuretic effect of the drink may awaken you with nature’s call in the wee hours.
- Set the mood. “Your bedroom should be uncluttered and dark, watch out for the little charging lights, clocks, and digital displays glowing all night,” says Dr. Leavey. A cooler temperature also acts as a natural trigger for sleep, so try to keep the room under 70° or so.
- Partner up with a good bed buddy – or not. Some partners are great for cuddling and spooning with while others may flail around during the night disturbing the sleep of the adjacent one – mattress size matters. The choice of a full, queen, king or twin beds or separate bedrooms, may need to be made on practical considerations of nighttime comfort.
- Turn it off. Avoid using electronic devices one hour before bed since the blue light emitted lessens your body’s ability to easily fall asleep. Sleep experts emphasize this point time and time again. Hard to do, we get it, but try it and you’ll see the positive impact it has on your sleep.