Is there a link between sleep and heart health? If you’re not getting enough shut-eye, you might be raising your risk for heart disease. And, if you have a heart problem, you might find it difficult to get the rest you need.
What Is Healthy Sleep?
Much like a healthy diet and regular physical activity, sleep plays a big part in your overall health. Sleep allows your brain to form new pathways to help you learn, supports healthy organ, muscle, and tissue function, and helps regulate your hormones.
While everyone is different, the National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep per night for most adults. And although most people will toss and turn sometimes, regular lack of sleep — less than six hours each night — can raise your risk for serious health problems, including:
- Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
RELATED: 10 Reasons You’re Getting Poor Sleep
How Are Sleep and Heart Health Linked?
Healthy sleep can help you control some risk factors for heart disease, like your blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and weight. When you sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure are lower, which reduces the amount of stress on your heart and blood vessels. Sleep also helps your body balance your blood sugar levels and the hormones that affect your appetite.
Without proper sleep, your blood sugar levels can rise, increasing your risk for diabetes. Improper sleep can also raise the levels of certain inflammatory substances in your body, which put stress on your heart and blood vessels, and can affect your appetite, making you feel hungrier and causing you to overeat.
Can a Heart Problem Keep Me Awake?
Some heart problems can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep, including:
- Angina, or chest pain that happens when your heart muscle can’t get enough oxygen
- Heart rhythm problems like atrial fibrillation
- Heart failure, which can cause fluid to build up in your lungs
If you’ve been diagnosed with one of these conditions, your doctor can help you find ways to manage your sleep. And, if you have any signs of a heart problem, like chest pain, a fast or fluttering heartbeat, fatigue, dizziness, or shortness of breath, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
What Can I Do to Get Better Sleep?
Some people may be able to improve their sleep by adopting healthier sleep habits, including:
- Getting regular physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity, like brisk walking, running, bicycling, dancing, or swimming, at least three times per week.
- Going easy on the caffeine, especially in the evening. It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals before bedtime.
- Establishing a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, even on weekends.
- Creating a bedtime routine. Try taking a warm bath or drinking a cup of caffeine-free tea to help you relax, and turn off your television and other electronic devices .
- Making sure your room is cool, quiet, and dark.
If you have trouble sleeping on a regular basis, talk to your doctor.
To learn more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).