For years, you’ve heard that maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough exercise can help keep your heart healthy. Now, there’s one more factor you need to consider — sleep. Until recently, the American Heart Association (AHA) suggested a Simple 7™ list for protect your heart:
· Eating a healthy diet
· Getting enough exercise
· Maintaining a healthy weight
· Keeping cholesterol low
· Maintaining low blood sugar
· Reducing blood pressure
· Avoiding smoking or vaping
You can control all of these behaviors except managing your cholesterol and blood sugar without seeing your doctor. Now, to further limit your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, the AHA has created the Essential 8™. By adding sleep, another behavior you can control, to the list, the organization is addressing a widespread nationwide problem. If you feel regularly sleep deprived, you’re not alone. Nationwide, approximately 70 million Americans have consistent sleep problems. That means nearly one-in-three adults aren’t getting enough shuteye. A night or two of poor sleep isn’t a big problem.
However, if it goes on for a long time, the negative effects can add up and have a long-term impact on your heart. To be healthy, most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. If you have children, they need more. Kids under age 5 need up to 16 hours a night, and teens need roughly 10 hours.
You may already know that poor sleep has been linked to many problems, including mental illness, increased risk of injury, lower quality of life, and chronic diseases. It might surprise you that if you get less than seven hours of sleep nightly, you also face increased cardiovascular risks.
Here’s how sleep directly impacts your heart:
· Blood pressure: Blood pressure drops during sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, your blood pressure stays higher longer. Over time, that damages your heart.
· Type 2 diabetes: The longer your blood sugar stays high, the more it can hurt your blood vessels. There is some research that shows sleep helps lower blood sugar levels.
· Obesity: It’s well known that poor sleep contributes directly to weight gain, particularly in children and adolescents who need more sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, the part of your brain that controls hunger doesn’t work as well. Fatigue and lack of energy can also limit the physical activity needed for good cardiovascular health.
Conditions that affect your sleep
Bad nights of sleep happen to everyone on occasion. However, there are two medical conditions that can routinely affect your sleep and hurt your heart over time. Talk to your doctor if you think you have either of these problems:
Sleep apnea: With this condition, you stop breathing momentarily several times a night, reducing the oxygen your body gets while you sleep. It increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Insomnia: With this condition, you either have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Not only is it linked to high blood pressure and heart disease, but insomnia also saps your energy. That means you’ll have less motivation to exercise to help maintain a healthy weight.
Ways to improve your sleep
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve the overall quality of your sleep. If you’re struggling with poor sleep, reach out to your doctor and follow these steps:
· Set a sleep schedule and stick to it
· Get more natural light exposure during the day
· Exercise, but not within a few hours of bedtime
· Limit exposure to blue light from smartphones, computers, and televisions
· Avoid eating or drinking within a few hours of bedtime
· Keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet
Are you concerned that poor sleep may be affecting your heart? Reach out to one of St. Elizabeth Healthcare’s cardiologists for an appointment.