Different Ways That Sleep Affects Heart Health



There are many reasons as to why you should get a good night’s sleep, but perhaps one of the most important is because of the effect sleep has on our hearts. Many of us tend not to think of our sleep affecting something as important as our heart, but research has shown that in the past 50 years, our sleep duration has decreased by around 2 hours per night. That’s a lot of sleep to be missing out on over the course of a week.

Getting a good night’s sleep has hugely positive effects on our bodies, from increased energy levels, heightened senses and of course, heart health. Sleep should not be considered a luxury - it is as important for the human body as food, water and oxygen. Sleep enables our body to rest and repair and helps us to function properly, but how else does it affect our hearts?

How much sleep do I need?

On average, most adults need around 7 hours of sleep each night. Of course, children and teenagers need more sleep than adults as they are growing, with teenagers needing around 8-10 hours and children around 11-14 hours of sleep a night. However, around a third of adults don’t think that they get enough sleep and whilst this is ok for a day or so, if you are regularly not getting enough sleep then over time this can lead to serious health problems or make underlying health conditions worse.

Sleep conditions linked to a lack of sleep

Adults who get less than 7 hours of sleep a night are much more likely to have health problems, such as asthma, depression and heart attacks. Some of these health problems also cause other concerns, such as:

-        High blood pressure
During normal sleep, your blood pressure naturally decreases as your heart isn’t having to work as hard as when you are awake. But, having problems sleeping means that your blood pressure stays higher for longer periods of time and high blood pressure is one of the leading risks for stroke and heart disease.
-        Type 2 diabetes
Diabetes is a disease which causes sugar to build up in your veins and blood and is a condition which can cause lasting damage to blood vessels. Some studies have shown that by getting the recommended amount of sleep, you can help to improve the way your body controls blood sugar.
-        Obesity
Not getting enough sleep can lead to unhealthy weight gain as a lack of sleep affects the part of the brain which controls hunger. This is more true for children and adolescents than adults.

How can these conditions affect heart health?

Over time, regularly not getting enough sleep can hurt your heart and cause even more issues and damage.
Sleep apnea happens when your airways repeatedly become blocked during your sleep, which then causes you to stop breathing for short amounts of time. Sleep apnea can be caused and made worse by certain health issues and complaints, such as heart failure and obesity. Sleep apnea affects how much oxygen your body gets whilst you are asleep and can be made worse by conditions such as obesity, as more pressure is put on your airways whilst you sleep.

Insomnia is when you have issues falling asleep, staying asleep or even both. It is believed that around 1 in 2 adults will experience short-term insomnia at some point in their lives, with 1 in 10 people going on to develop long-lasting insomnia. Insomnia is linked to both heart disease and high blood pressure and over time, poor sleep can lead to unhealthy habits which can hurt your heart including high-stress levels and unhealthy food choices.

How you can get a better night’s sleep

There are many different ways in which you can get a better night’s sleep. Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule and go to bed at the same time each night. Get up at the same time every day, even on the weekends, as there is little evidence which shows that weekend lie-ins have a positive effect on upping your overall sleep duration and if anything it can make you feel more tired.

Eating a balanced diet is hugely important for all aspects of your health. If you regularly eat processed or junk food, then you will likely find that your body is lacking in vitamins which will then make you feel even more tired and put your heart at further risk. You should aim to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day and include a variety of pulses, beans and legumes in your diet. If you suspect that you’re lacking in vitamins and this is affecting your sleep and health, you may benefit from taking supplements such as high strength fish oil, but you must check with your doctor first.

You should avoid being exposed to artificial light in the hour or two leading up to when you go to bed. In today’s modern world, a lot of us rely on technology to unwind before we head to bed, spending hours on our phones or watching TV. You should also try to get enough natural light during the day, as not only will this affect your vitamin D intake, which has positive benefits for your body, but will naturally make you more tired once it begins to get dark in the evenings.