A good night’s sleep means more to your heart than you think.
We sleep for nearly a third of our lives, yet more than 1 in 3 adults say they don’t get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. Over time not getting enough sleep can put you at risk for heart disease, the leading cause of illness and death in the United States.
Lack of sleep can heighten the risk of heart attacks
In an American Heart Association study, people who reported sleeping less than six hours per night had a 20% higher chance of a heart attack. Sleep deprivation has been linked to numerous other heart problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, obesity, diabetes, and stroke.
Dr. Fulvia Milite, Director of the Sleep Center at White Plains Hospital says, “During the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep stages, the heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, and breathing stabilizes. These changes reduce stress on the heart, allowing it to recover from strain that occurs during the day.”
Having sleep apnea may weaken the heart
Sleep apnea causes multiple sleep disruptions throughout the night from not being able to breathe, and it can be damaging to the heart. Every time an awakening occurs, a stress response is triggered and your pulse and blood pressure increase significantly, which can lead to hypertension and greater risk of heart disease. The good news is, sleep apnea can be treated. First it has to be diagnosed. “A sleep study can better determine the quantity and quality of sleep you are getting at night,” says Dr. Milite. “One successful method of treating sleep apnea is through continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. Patients use a CPAP machine which increases air pressure in their throat, so the airway doesn't collapse when they breathe in.”
Dr. Milite recommends several steps you can take that will help you sleep and protect your heart:
- Create an internal clock: Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends. Our bodies follow a circadian rhythm, a 24-hour biological clock that regulates the timing of when we eat or sleep and following a pattern keeps our bodies running efficiently.
- Set up supportive surroundings: Arrange your bedroom to meet your needs with a comfortable mattress and pillow. Set a pleasant temperature, between 60 and 75 degrees, and make it as quiet and dark as possible to help promote sleep.
- Lighten up on your evening meals. They contain fats and sugar that are hard to digest. Avoid alcohol and caffeine; alcohol can disrupt your sleep, and it can take six hours or longer to rid your body of caffeine. Looking at fluorescent and LED lights on devices like computers and cell phones can also throw off your sleep pattern, which is why experts recommend not using them for half an hour or more before bed.
“Many people fall into the habit of telling themselves they’ll make up for sleep on the weekends, but doing that negatively impacts sleep quality,” says Dr. Milite. “Make it a point to remind myself that sleep and your heart health are priorities.”