Getting an adequate amount and good quantity of sleep is vitally important for your energy level, your heart health, the repair of your body, for your healthy brain function, the control of appetite and blood sugar, your general health overall, and your normal daily functioning.
Studies have shown a connection between lack of sleep and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Also, the CDC has reported that most adults need a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep nightly to maintain heart health and other benefits like preventing high blood pressure.
Also important to heart health is maintaining a regular sleep pattern. This is defined as establishing a regular bedtime and wake up schedule. An irregular sleep pattern is harmful to heart health.
How much sleep do you need?
Getting a good night’s sleep should not be considered a luxury because sleep is critical to your good health. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. About one in every three American adults will admit they do not get the recommended amount of sleep every day.
Getting less than the recommended amount of sleep for a day or two may not be a problem, but over time this habit will lead to serious health issues.
Importance of a regular sleep pattern
Research has shown that irregular sleep patterns, where the time and the amount of sleep varies from one day to the next, will increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in individuals ages 45 to 84. A regular sleep schedule helps prevent heart disease.
It has been determined that maintaining a regular sleep pattern helps prevent heart disease in the same way that a healthy lifestyle, a healthy diet, and physical activity does. The reason for this is not entirely clear, but it may be due to the disruption to the body’s sleep-wake cycles, called the circadian patterns. It is well known that shift workers whose circadian rhythms are regularly interrupted show moderate increases in stroke and heart disease.
Health conditions linked to a lack of sleep
It has been shown that adults who sleep for less than 7 hours nightly are more prone to suffer from health issues such as asthma, heart attack, and depression. Some of those health conditions increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. Those health conditions include:
- High blood pressure. Normally high blood pressure goes down during normal sleep. When you experience sleep problems your high blood pressure remains high for a longer time. High blood pressure is a leading risk for stroke and heart disease. In America, one in every three adults suffers from this condition.
- Obesity. Obesity is often the result of a lack of sleep. Although this is especially true for adolescents and children it also affects many adults. A lack of sleep affects the part of the brain that controls hunger.
- Type 2 diabetes. In this disease, sugar builds up in the blood and damages your blood vessels. Getting adequate sleep has been shown to control blood sugar levels of the body.
What sleep conditions can hurt your heart health?
Sleep problems experienced over a long period of time will eventually hurt heart health. The following two sleep problems are especially harmful:
- Sleep Apnea. During sleep, the airways of a person with sleep apnea get blocked repeatedly and cause breathing to stop for short periods of time. Sleep apnea may be caused by health conditions such as heart failure, obesity, and heart problems.
- Insomnia. In this health problem, an individual has difficulty falling asleep remaining asleep or both. One in two adults experiences short-term insomnia at some time in their lives, and one in ten experiences long-term insomnia. There is a strong link between insomnia, high blood pressure, and heart disease. If left unchecked, insomnia may lead to unhealthy habits that may hurt the heart including less motivation for physical activity, unhealthy food choices and higher stress levels.
Sleep apnea reduces the amount of oxygen the body receives during sleep and it increases the risk of health problems such as heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. Sleep apnea is more common among Native Americans, Hispanics, and black people.
How to get better sleep
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule by going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning, seven days a week.
- Expose yourself daily to natural light especially in the early part of the day by taking lunchtime or morning walks.
- Engage in physical activity daily but do not exercise within a few hours of your bedtime. Exercise promotes a night of more restful and deeper sleep.
- Do not drink or eat within a few hours of bedtime and do not consume any foods high in fat, sugar or alcohol. Avoid stimulants such as nicotine, chocolate, or caffeine since these may keep you awake if taken close to bedtime.
- Keep the bedroom quiet, cool, and dark using room-darkening shades, earplugs or other items that may produce a restful room at your bedtime.
- Make your bed comfortable by using a mattress that increases comfort and provides cooling to prevent you from getting too warm while you sleep.
- Use stress-reducing techniques before bedtime. This may involve journaling to express bothersome thoughts. Practicing yoga, meditating, taking long walks, and getting regular massages may help reduce stress during the day and help to provide restful sleep.
- Use apps to assist in falling asleep. Some apps provide sounds and soft music that encourage restful sleep while others may track your sleep cycles and provide a progressive alarm clock that will stop sudden waking which is linked to excessive tiredness.
Seek the advice of your doctor if you experience any difficulty getting good sleep or any other medical conditions.
Research has shown that consistently sleeping for seven to eight hours each night is beneficial to your health. Also, sleeping for more or less than seven or eight hours can increase your risk for serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and even death.
Consistently getting quality sleep and following a regular sleep schedule is important to living a heart-healthy lifestyle. It may require getting a new mattress, setting an alarm, or following guidelines for better sleep, but it is never too late to establish better sleep hygiene.