A Plea From Your Heart: Get More Sleep
Getting an adequate night's sleep is one of the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle. Of course, diet and regular exercise are important as well, but a lot of people underestimate how vital it is to get at least eight hours of sleep in every 24-hour period.
"Sleep is a period of regeneration and restoration for the body," said Emmanuella Auguste, M.D., MBA. "Any disruption to sleep affects the optimal functioning of the heart, increasing one's risk of negative cardiovascular outcomes."
When your heart is healthy
The primary function of the heart is pushing around 1.2 to 1.5 gallons of blood to all areas of your body, carrying oxygen, fuel, hormones and other compounds.
"Heart health is marked by the heart functioning at its best," Auguste said. "This entails proper circulation that allows perfusion throughout the tissues and organs in the body."
The blood the heart pumps around the body through the circulatory system of arteries and veins also acts as the vehicle to remove the waste products of metabolism.
"If the heart fails due to blockage or impaired functioning, all other organs are also negatively affected subsequently," Auguste added. "Overall, a healthy heart is central to positive health outcomes and our well-being."
Past studies have demonstrated the correlation between inadequate sleep and the increased risk for cardiovascular issues:
- Blood pressure: During sleep, blood pressure decreases. For people with sleeping problems, their blood pressure stays higher for an extended time during each 24-hour period thus increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Type 2 diabetes: When we miss sleep, hormone levels in our body can become imbalanced, sometimes causing an abnormal increase in levels of the hormone cortisol, which in turn increases blood sugar levels. This triggers your pancreas to respond by producing insulin, which is a hormone that reduces blood sugar levels. Chronic lack of sleep can affect the natural balance of the endocrine system, which is tasked with blood sugar regulation, due to sustained levels of increased cortisol. There are other factors affecting blood sugar levels, including your pancreas trying to lessen the impact by producing more insulin, but cutting sleep can exacerbate the situation.
- Obesity: Insufficient sleep affects the part of the brain that controls hunger, which can lead to obesity, especially in children and adolescents. Lack of sleep affects your body's production of certain appetite-suppressing hormones, such as a rise in ghrelin and a reduction in leptin. These hormones are linked to hunger and appetite, and your overall metabolism.
- Stroke and heart attack: The American Heart Association found a lack of sleep is associated with increased calcium buildup in the arteries. Calcium buildup causes the creation of plaques that can increase the risk of a heart attack.
- Heart disease: The consistent rise in Americans diagnosed with cardiovascular disease is not surprising, as research from the National Sleep Foundation shows 35 percent of Americans report that their sleep quality is "poor" or "fair." With a clear connection between sleep and heart health, the lifestyle of non-normative sleep will result in more patients with chronic heart issues.
Adjusting your life for more sleep
"My symptoms are a catch-22," said Colleen, an insurance agent from Brooklyn, New York. "My sleep apnea contributed to my weight gain which in turn increased my risk for cardiovascular disease."
Colleen now struggles to get enough sleep in addition to managing chronic hypertension. Sleep apnea is known to affect the amount of oxygen the body gets during sleep, which increases the risk of many health issues like hypertension, stroke and heart attack.
"Sleep health plays a significant role in our physical and mental well-being," Auguste said. "Lifestyle changes, such as proper nutrition, diet and exercise, are crucial to reducing cardiovascular health risks and promoting healthy sleep."
Sleeping disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), insomnia, and even anxiety and depression, can contribute to inadequate sleep, subsequently exacerbating present cardiovascular risk factors. Talk to your doctor if you think you have risk factors and get correctly diagnosed. Early treatment/control will have long-term benefits.
Strategies that often help with achieving healthy sleep patterns are avoiding caffeinated drinks close to bedtime, limiting alcohol intake, incorporating an exercise regimen and, of course, avoiding mental stimulation and blue light devices—such as laptops and smartphones—before bedtime. Before making any major lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor for advice and suggestions.