Sleep is vital for your energy levels, and it is essential for a healthy heart. People who are not getting enough sleep have a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, coronary heart disease, and many other problems. Getting good sleep helps the body repair itself and function normally.
Sleep deprivation and heart issues are widespread today. Heart diseases are the leading cause of death in the U.S., and lack of sleep is the most significant contributor to heart issues, cancer, obesity, neurological issues, and other health problems. Sleep and heart disease are connected closely – poor sleep leads to heart diseases and heart diseases often make it hard to sleep.
Definition of Heart Disease
Heart diseases or cardiovascular diseases are health issues that affect your heart. Among the most common types of heart disease are arrhythmia, high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, cardiac arrest, and stroke. Arrhythmia is the irregular beating of the heart, either too fast or too slow. High blood pressure is the pressure that blood creates when going against the artery walls of the heart. Peripheral artery disease is the narrowing of the blood vessels that impedes the blood flow to the limbs and secondary areas of the body. Coronary artery disease is when damage happens to the main blood vessels in the heart. Congestive heart failure is the heart’s chronic ineptitude to pump blood. Birth heart abnormality causes congenital heart disease. Cardiac arrest, or just heart attack, is the moment when your heart suddenly stops working which causes the individual to lose consciousness or the ability to breathe. Stroke is the lack of blood supply that causes damage to the brain.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
There are many risk factors for heart disease that cannot be controlled like family history, age, gender, weight, diabetes, or other medical conditions. The majority of heart issues happen with age, especially with 65 years or older. Both women and men can have a heart attack in old age, but men have a more significant risk of having heart attacks and women have a higher chance of dying from them. Children whose parents have heart diseases have a bigger chance of developing heart disease themselves. You can even be born with some risk factors that cannot be affected or controlled. If you have more of these risk factors, you have a bigger chance of getting coronary heart disease. However, there are some lifestyle factors we can control like smoking, increased blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, eating habits and dieting. Smokers have a much higher risk of getting coronary heart disease than nonsmokers. With the increase of your blood cholesterol increases, the risk of coronary heart disease also increases. High blood pressure amplifies the heart’s workload, which induces the heart muscle to be thick and stiffer, so your heart will function abnormally, and you consequently have a higher risk of a heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure. But, probably the most significant risk is poor sleep, that can be long, short or just unrestful. You cannot do anything about the factors you were born with, so it’s even more critical to manage the risk factors you are able to influence.
Heart Disease and Poor Sleep
Generally speaking, people today are getting much less sleep than ever. The average person sleeps for 6.8 hours during the night, which is less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours and 1.5 hours less than 100 years ago. Along with that, there is an increase in diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, and many other chronic health problems and conditions. Many studies have linked poor sleep with heart disease, and the American Heart Association is raising awareness of this.
Sleep deprivation is one of the main contributors to health problems of all kinds. In a CDC study from 2013 people that slept for less than 6 hours per night had big chances of having a stroke, diabetes, obesity, and heart issues than regular sleepers that get their 8 hours per night. Many people that have insomnia suffer from sleep deprivation. Even short-term sleep deprivation has devastating effects on your health. This situation causes problems for shift workers like medical residents, EMTs, and firefighters. These people start with good health, but after one 24-hour shift, they can get increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and increased levels of stress-related hormones such as cortisol.
Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Many studies have shown that sleep deprivation can increase your blood pressure. When we do not get enough sleep, our bodies make higher levels of inflammatory agents, like interleukin-6, C-reactive protein and others. Each of these inflammatory agents is associated with heart diseases and chronic health problems. As you age, your blood pressure gets higher, and you can develop heart issues. And sleeping also becomes difficult with age because of your high blood pressure. The lack of sleep that is present with older adults can severely increase the risk of hypertension.
Another risk factor for heart disease is obesity, and sleep deprivation is also associated with obesity. When you get an adequate amount of sleep, the hypothalamus in your brain makes the leptin hormone that controls your appetite. However, there is another hormone in your body called ghrelin that is responsible for increasing your appetite. When you get smaller amounts of sleep, the production of ghrelin increases, and so does your appetite. With the increased appetite you eat more, which means you gain weight that will put a strain on your heart.
Heart Disease and Too Much Sleep
People that sleep for more than the recommended amount of sleep are also at risk of developing heart problems. Many heart failures and strokes happened to individuals that were sleeping for eight to ten hours per night. Some researches have said that this happens because people that sleep more have an underlying health problem that makes them sleep longer. Additionally, daytime napping was found to increase the risk of heart disease or death for people that sleep for more than 8 hours per night.
Sleep Problems with Heart Disease
Poor sleep can increase your risk of getting heart disease, but having heart disease can also affect your sleep. Insomnia and sleep apnea are the two main problems that affect individuals with heart disease.
Individuals that have heart disease often have sleep disturbances that end with insomnia. Heart failure can weaken your bladder causing you to wake up in the middle of your sleep cycle and go to the bathroom. Another issue is when the fluid that is settled in your legs goes into your lungs during the day and causes you chest pain that makes it hard to fall asleep.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes a temporary loss of breath during the night. Your airway gets complete or partial obstructions that prevent you from breathing for short amounts of time. It induces shallow breathing and temporary breath loss that can repeatedly happen during the night and disrupt your sleep. During an episode of sleep apnea, your body responds by increasing the adrenaline levels to fight this problem. Even if this does not wake you up, the constant interruption minimizes the quality of sleep you are getting. And with the increase of adrenaline comes the rise of blood pressure that may contribute to a stroke. People who have normal blood pressure before getting sleep apnea may soon have problems with high blood pressure.
Two types of sleep apnea exist – central sleep apnea (CSA) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Obstructive sleep apnea is more widespread than central sleep apnea, but both of them have the same consequences to your sleep and health. The difference between them is that obstructive sleep apnea develops when you have a blockage or narrowing of the airway, while central sleep apnea develops when there is a communication problem with the brainstem that is in charge of your breathing. The symptoms of the obstructive sleep apnea include pauses in breathing, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, sweating during the night, problems with concentration and memory. It often comes with loud snoring, which happens when the air goes through narrowed airways, and the relaxed tissues vibrate.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep each night. However, a lot of people don’t get the recommended amount of sleep. While this may be fine for a day or two, not getting enough sleep over time can lead to serious health problems—and make specific health problems worse. Individuals that sleep less than 7 hours per night are in risk of having health problems, like a heart attack, asthma, and depression, all of which can raise the risk for heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.
These health problems include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Staying awake increases your blood pressure remains for a more extended amount of time, but when sleeping your blood pressure goes down. Some studies show that getting enough good sleep can improve your blood sugar control and your metabolism, while lack of sleep can damage your blood sugar levels and cause unhealthy weight gain. Sleeping less than 6 hours is terrible, but sleeping over 9 hours is also damaging. Having either too-long or too-short sleep can increase the calcium deposits, that is considered as a risk factor for coronary artery disease.
Tips for Sleeping Better with Heart Disease
Researchers are not sure yet whether you can counteract the effects that poor sleep on your heart health. But getting better sleep will be better for your heart. Sleep is a way for your body to repair itself. Providing yourself with enough sleep can also help you function normally during the day. Here are some tips on how to sleep better with heart disease.
- Have a regular sleep schedule.
Waking up and going to sleep and at the exact time each day, you’re orienting your circadian rhythm to follow a particular schedule, and as time passes, your body and brain will feel tired or wake up at times it is used to do these actions. Make sure your schedule enables you to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep. You can also match your new sleep schedule with a calming bedtime routine that will help your mind perceive certain behaviors and activities that lead to sleep. Your bedtime routine can have activities like brushing your teeth, taking a warm bath, aromatherapy, reading a boring book or turning off your TV, phone, laptop, tablet or any other device.
- Your bedroom needs to be the optimal sleep environment.
You need to use your bed for sleep and sex only. There should be no work or watching television. It would be best to clear your bedroom of unnecessary stuff and stressful reminders. Additionally, you need to keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. You can use blackout curtains or an eye mask if you need.
Individuals that have some heart failure can have excessive fluid that builds up while they’re lying down, which leads to uneasiness and sleep-disordered breathing. You can address this issue with an adjustable bed which will allow you to raise the head of the bed or a wedge pillow.
- Exercise and eating healthy
Exercise during the daytime can make your body tired and easier to sleep during the night. But make sure you do not exercise too late in the day, and aim to work out in the morning to provide yourself with an extra energy boost for the rest of your day.
Eating healthy food, like nuts, kale or yogurt has been shown to promote sleep, while eating sugary junk food is bad for sleep. Eating healthier will also help you lose weight which is very helpful in cases where your obesity contributes to the heart disease you have. But be careful and don’t eat or drink a few hours before bedtime, and especially do not consume food that has high doses of fat and sugar, caffeine or alcohol. Alcohol will disturb your sleep and cause early waking, while caffeine will keep you awake.
- Treat your sleep apnea
If you suffer from sleep apnea, treating it will reduce the risk of heart diseases. Sleep apnea affects how much oxygen your body gets while you sleep. Using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is the optimal treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. For central sleep apnea, you can try BIPAP therapy. When using these machines, you need to wear a mask over your face when you sleep. The device will open your airways and enable healthy, regular breathing.
- Reduce stress levels
Reducing your stress levels will minimize the strain on your nervous system and heart. You can get daily exercise to burn off excess energy and stress and get enough natural light, especially earlier in the day with a morning walk. Avoiding the use of any electronics an hour before bed is recommended because blue light has the same effect on your brain as sunlight. .
- The best sleep posture
The optimal sleep position is the one that keeps the spine properly aligned, and taking pressure off your muscles and bones. A relatively hard bed can keep the spine straight. A bed that is too soft will not provide enough support to stop possible spinal problems. You can use a pillow to keep your neck raised in the appropriate position. Sleeping on your back can help your organs relax, but it also puts pressure on the spine which can end up causing breathing difficulties and snoring. Sleeping on your stomach can help you breathe more easily and expel excess mucus from the lungs caused by some respiratory problems. But this position creates pressure on the chest and heart, so it is a very unfortunate position for people with heart problems or high blood pressure. When sleeping on the side, it would be best to sleep on your right side because it puts less pressure on the heart and stomach. If you have heart disease, gallstones or digestive problems you should avoid sleeping on the left side. And if you have high blood pressure, you need to sleep partly on the right side with the head raised.
Iva is an art historian and an art lover who always had a passion for writing and sleep! When she is not researching and testing new mattresses on the market, you can find her binge-watching TV shows, eating tons of junk food or playing with her dog Bart.