We’ve all heard that sleep is important, but did you know that good sleep habits can prevent heart disease?
Quality sleep allows our bodies time to recharge and rejuvenate. This restorative period affects our physical health and well-being. Specifically, researchers have discovered a link between sleep and heart disease. They propose that healthy sleep habits may prevent cardiovascular damage and help those with existing heart conditions to lower their risk of heart attack and other vascular complications.
If you currently have heart problems or are at high risk, keep reading to find out how to sleep better to promote heart health.
What is Good Sleep?
You may wonder, “How do you know if you’ve gotten good sleep?” or “How many hours of sleep do I need?”
For adequate rest, an adult needs about 7 to 8 hours of continuous sleep. So, a 2-hour nap plus 5 hours at night does not count as 7 hours.
Next, it should take about 15 minutes to fall asleep. If it takes much longer than 15 minutes to fall asleep, examine your sleep habits and health to determine what might be causing you to stay awake.
Furthermore, you should be able to wake up without an alarm clock and feel rested. Needing help to wake up indicates that your body needs more time to rest. You may need an alarm at first to set a good sleep routine, but you should only rely on an alarm short-term.
The key to waking up without an alarm is to go to bed early enough for a full night’s rest and stick to a consistent sleep schedule. This routine should help you experience the benefits of sleep.
Even with a good schedule, you may not sleep well if you have a sleeping problem like sleep apnea. Tell your doctor you have trouble sleeping if you wake up tired with a dry mouth, feel fatigued during the day, and know if you snore, gasp for breath, and choke during the night. Also, mention if you feel your heart racing at night or experience chest pain from lack of sleep.
Because sleep is time for our bodies and minds to rest, we should wake up feeling rested after a good night’s sleep. It’s essential to strive for quality sleep since there are numerous benefits to getting enough sleep.
What Happens to Your Heart When You Sleep
What exactly happens when we sleep that makes it so important? Many of our bodies’ functions run on a 24-hour cycle called a circadian rhythm.
This daily biological clock is a schedule for biological functions, like increasing and decreasing hormone levels such as melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin and cortisol levels affect when we fall asleep and our quality of sleep. As a result, our biological clocks determine if we get good sleep.
Furthermore, one study reveals that a healthy circadian rhythm—i.e., going to bed, waking up, and eating around the same time—can decrease the risk of heart disease. So, we see a direct link between circadian rhythms, good sleep, and heart health.
While we sleep, our bodies go through a phase called non-rapid eye movement (NREM). During NREM, our heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, and breathing stabilizes. A healthy sleeping heart rate is 40 – 50 bpm, and blood pressure should drop 10% – 20%.
These changes reduce stress on the heart, which allows it to rest and recover from strain experienced during the previous day. As a result, a recovered heart can function properly the following day and effectively pump blood to the heart and organs.
How Sleep Impacts Your Heart
Don’t be surprised if you wake up with chest pain from sleep deprivation. In multiple studies, researchers link poor sleep to high blood pressure, heart attacks, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Even people without pre-existing risk factors increase their risk of heart disease and heart attacks when they lack proper sleep.
A 2022 study revealed that those with self-reported sleep problems increased their risk of heart disease by 54% compared to those with no self-reported sleep problems. The self-reported sleeping problems included trouble falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, and sleeping less than 6 hours.
However, more than just the quality of sleep affects your heart health. A 2020 study shows that inconsistent bedtimes and irregular sleep duration can double the risk of heart disease compared to those with consistent bedtimes and durations. This evidence further emphasizes the importance of a consistent sleep schedule and healthy circadian rhythm.
But exactly how does poor sleep lead to heart disease? Disturbed sleep decreases the amount of hypocretin, a hormone the brain produces that regulates sleep and awake states.
Researchers linked lower hypocretin levels with increased arterial plaque and inflammation, leading to heart disease. Though, this study may be just one piece of the puzzle linking sleep and heart health. The main point is that, indirectly, lack of sleep can cause heart problems.
How Your Heart Impacts Sleep
While sleep impacts your heart, your heart also affects your sleep. We see a vicious cycle of poor sleep leading to heart problems and heart problems leading to poor sleep. For example, people with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke history are more likely to have sleep apnea and sleep poorly.
Additionally, cardiovascular disorders can cause chest discomfort or pain when trying to fall asleep at night. Diabetes can also cause disrupted sleep since it leads to frequent urination at night. Lastly, anxiety and stress over existing heart problems can make relaxing and falling asleep difficult.
The best way to break the vicious cycle is to implement habits for better sleep and treat existing symptoms of heart problems and health conditions.
How to Get Better Sleep
Thankfully, there are multiple ways to improve sleep. Here are a few tips to sleep better and improve heart health:
- Practice deep breathing and meditation
- Try light stretching before bed and regular exercise during the day
- Keep a consistent schedule by waking up and going to bed at the same time every day
- Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillow
- Set a comfortable bedroom temperature
- Keep your bedroom quiet and dark
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
- Put away electronic devices an hour or more before bedtime
- Lose excess weight from belly fat to both decrease heart problem risk and improve sleep quality
Improve Your Heart Health and Sleep Quality Today
Considering the importance of sleep, it’s clear that healthy sleep habits can lower your risk of developing heart disease. Other risk factors for heart disease include smoking, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, genetics, etc. If you think you have a high risk for cardiovascular disease, see a specialist at Vein Solutions Flint. We can work with you to improve your vascular health so you can sleep better at night with fewer worries.