Can sleep affect your heart health?

Woman having trouble sleeping

Yes, you increase the risk of heart problems when you don't get enough sleep.

Poor sleep, which affects more than 33 percent of Americans, is a risk factor for developing poor cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, it's also a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes — the two most common types of cardiovascular disease.

Getting enough sleep is vital for everyone, but it's essential if you have heart disease or are at risk of developing it.

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Conditions Linked to Sleep Problems

Think you can get away with being sleep deprived? Think again. Whether sleep disorders or poor lifestyle choices cause your lack of sleep, not sleeping puts you at increased risk for the following:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes

Each of these conditions is bad enough on its own, but all of them can increase your risk for coronary artery disease. This includes heart attack, heart failure, stroke and more.

Did you know?

  • A study of coronary artery disease found that those who slept fewer than six hours a night were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke1.     
  • Sleep gives your body a chance to recover from the day's activities.
  • During sleep, your body repairs itself.
  • Sleep helps regulate the hormones that affect blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Your blood pressure drops, and your heart rate slows. This gives your heart a chance to rest.
  • Your body fights inflammation while you sleep2.

How Much Healthy Sleep Do You Need?

Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a day. But some people need more sleep, and some people need less sleep.

The amount of sleep you need depends on many factors, including:

  • Your age
  • Your health
  • Your lifestyle
  • Your work schedule

If you're not getting enough sleep, talk to your doctor. Some treatments can help you get the sleep duration you need.

How Sleep Helps

When you sleep, your body does some amazing things. For example, your blood pressure drops, and your breathing and heart rates slow down.

This gives your heart a much-needed break. During this time, your body recovers from the stress and strain placed on it throughout the day.

When you are sleep deprived, your body misses out on this restorative, healing process. Instead, your heart continues pumping at full blast. Unfortunately, this leaves your blood vessels under constant stress, leading to dangerous results.

Unfortunately, getting poor quality sleep is nearly as bad as no sleep. Research indicates that your risk for heart disease increases whether you don't sleep or if your sleep is interrupted by health conditions, such as an overactive bladder, and sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea.

Better Sleep = Better Heart Health

To protect against heart disease, aim for seven to nine uninterrupted hours of sleep each night. If you are unable to meet this goal, try these tips:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including on the weekends. Your body loves routine. Having a set sleep and wake schedule makes it easy to fall asleep and wake up ready to go.
  • Keep your bedroom a sleep paradise. Screens emit blue light that can interfere with your body's production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Get rid of the TV and turn off your phone in the bedroom. Make your room dark and cool, and you'll enjoy better sleep.
  • Have a nighttime routine. Whether brushing your teeth, taking a shower or reading before bed, doing the same thing every night helps you get in the sleeping mindset.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.
  • If you can't sleep, get up and write down your thoughts. This can help you clear your mind and make it easier to fall back asleep.
  • Get up and move around if you can't sleep. Walking or doing some other form of light physical activity can help you fall asleep.

Heart Health Assessment

Take a health assessment to measure your heart health. The CHRISTUS Health heart assessment measures your risk of heart disease by asking simple questions.

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References 

1. Nagai, M., Hoshide, S., & Kario, K. (2010). Sleep Duration as a Risk Factor for Cardiovascular Disease- a Review of the Recent Literature. Current Cardiology Reviews, 6(1), 54–61. https://doi.org/10.2174/157340310790231635

2. How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health? | cdc.gov. (2021, January 4). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/sleep.htm#:%7E:text=It%20is%20critical%20to%20good,function%20normally%20during%20the%20day.