We all know that it feels refreshing to get a good night’s sleep. You may know that sleep is important for your health. But did you know sleeping habits have been directly linked to cardiovascular health? Multiple studies show that poor sleep habits and sleep disorders can increase your risk of heart disease.
Sleep is so essential for your wellness that the American Heart Association recently added sleep to Life’s Essential 8™, the association’s checklist of elements for heart-healthy living.
Adequate sleep is fundamental for your body’s proper recovery and functioning — yet, only around half of adults in the US report getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily. We hope this essential guide to sleep and heart health gives you the tools to take control of your *sleep* health.
Health Conditions Linked to Sleep Deprivation
The CDC currently recommends adults 18 years old and above sleep seven or more hours a night. Despite these guidelines, the Sleep Foundation reports that about a third of all adults in the US sleep less than seven hours.
Sleep is important for hormone regulation. Sleep deprivation leads to higher levels of stress hormones in the body. These stress hormones can elevate your blood pressure and put additional strain on your heart. Sleep deprivation can also lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as overeating or not exercising, which can also contribute to heart disease.
Besides increased stress, lower productivity, and sedentarism, a lack of sleep can cause serious health problems, such as:
High Blood Pressure
When you don’t get adequate sleep, your body goes into a “fight or flight” mode, which causes your body to create more of the stress hormone cortisol. This increases your heart rate and narrows your blood vessels. Over time, this can lead to hypertension, putting you at risk for heart attack, stroke, and other potentially fatal problems.
Diabetes is a chronic health condition that occurs when the body is unable to properly regulate blood sugar levels. According to the CDC, people who sleep less than six hours per night are at increased risk of developing diabetes. Sleep deprivation interferes with the body’s ability to process insulin, which can lead to high blood sugar levels. In addition, sleep loss increases inflammation throughout the body, which is another contributing factor to diabetes.
When you don’t get a proper amount of sleep, your body doesn’t have a chance to rest and repair itself. This can cause an increase in your appetite, cravings for unhealthy foods, and overeating. Sleep deprivation can also disrupt hormones that regulate hunger and fullness, leading to weight gain.
Poor sleep, including sleep disorders, can increase your risk of several types of heart disease. These include coronary artery disease, heart failure, atrial fibrillation and other heart rhythm disturbances, as well as stroke.
According to the National Institutes of Health, people who are sleep-deprived are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Lack of sleep can also worsen existing mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders.
Learn more about The Link Between Mental Health and Heart Disease | WomenHeart.
Signs You’re Not Getting Adequate Sleep
Sleep deprivation can affect your body in several ways and can have some serious consequences. These are some common signs that you’re not getting adequate sleep:
- Your sleep duration is less than 7 hours per night on a regular basis.
- You have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
- You wake up feeling tired and unrefreshed.
- You develop obstructive sleep apnea.
- You need an alarm clock to wake up on time.
- You feel the need to nap during the day.
- You have difficulty focusing on tasks.
- You find yourself getting irritable or impatient more easily.
If you’re experiencing any signs of sleep disorder, it’s important to identify the potential cause of your poor sleep habits. You may need to make lifestyle adjustments to make sleep a priority. Or you may want to see a health care provider to see if you have a diagnosed sleep disorder, which can be treated.
Common Sleep Disorders
Sleep apnea causes your airway to collapse during sleep, cutting off oxygen to your brain and other vital organs.
Each time your breathing stops or slows down, your body responds by releasing stress hormones and telling your heart to beat faster to make up the difference, preventing it from achieving true rest. This puts increased pressure on your heart, can increase your blood pressure, and cause inflammation and heart enlargement. If left untreated, sleep apnea can be dangerous because it puts you at increased risk for stroke, heart attack, and even sudden cardiac arrest.
Sleep apnea is a common problem that affects millions of Americans. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says about 25 million Americans suffer from this condition. Women between 50 and 70 years old are more likely to experience this disorder compared to women in their 30s and 40s, and women with higher BMIs have the highest risk of all groups. Milder cases of sleep apnea may be treated with lifestyle changes, while obstructive sleep apnea may be treated with a machine (CPAP) that delivers air pressure through a mask while you sleep.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder in which you may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or getting good quality sleep. Insomnia is 1.4 times more likely in women than men. Insomnia can be short-term, lasting a few days or weeks, or chronic, occurring 3 or more nights a week, for more than 3 months and cannot be fully explained by another health problem. Insomnia can be diagnosed and treated with healthy lifestyle habits, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medicine.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that makes people very drowsy during the day; they find it hard to stay awake for long periods of time and may fall asleep suddenly. While narcolepsy is a life-long condition, it can be treated with medicine, such as drugs that stimulate the central nervous system, drugs that suppress REM sleep, certain antidepressants and others. It is important that the doctor prescribing treatment for narcolepsy is aware of any heart conditions as well, so that there are no adverse effects on your heart health.
Tips for Improving Your Sleep Habits and Heart Health
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to improve your heart health by improving your sleep habits. Here are some easy tips on how to get more restful sleep:
- Get in the habit of getting up at the same time every morning.
- Avoid caffeine after noon. Caffeine can keep us awake and make it harder to fall asleep.
- Prioritize physical activity and exercise regularly. It will help you relax and feel better.
- Try not to watch TV right before bedtime or use your phone or computer.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet. Use an eye mask if you want to block out any unwanted light.
- Go to bed early.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Water keeps your brain functioning properly and helps flush toxins from your body.
- Do breathing exercises before bedtime. Breathing deeply and slowly calms your mind and helps you drift into a deep sleep.
- Talk to a health care provider if you think you might have a sleep disorder and, if so, follow the treatment plan.
A Happy Heart Is a Well-Rested One
Lack of sleep may exacerbate existing conditions and make them more difficult to manage. That’s why it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep.
If you’re struggling with poor sleep quality and related health conditions, don’t hesitate to seek out a sleep specialist or talk to your medical team. Getting the sleep you need is crucial for a happy and healthy heart.