Sleep plays a critical role in maintaining overall health and well-being. 1 in 3 adults in the United States do not get the recommended amount of sleep needed. Those who do not get at least 7 hours of sleep a night may be at risk of having a heart attack and other health problems. This article discusses the effects of poor sleep on your heart health.
Sleep is critical for allowing the body to rest and heal — lack of sleep can have negative health effects.
Adults should aim for more than 7 hours of sleep per night, with a consistent sleep schedule.
Poor sleep hygiene has been linked to high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes.
Sleep apnea and insomnia are common sleep disorders that can increase the risk of developing heart disease.
The importance of sleep for heart health
Sleep provides rest and restoration to the body and allows it to heal and rejuvenate. Two common sleep conditions that can affect heart health are obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia. The former condition occurs when the airway is partially or completely blocked during sleep, leading to interrupted breathing and reduced oxygen levels. The latter condition refers to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
The impact of poor sleep
During the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle of the sleep stage, the heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, and breathing is stabilized. These physiological changes promote cardiovascular health and provide essential recovery for the heart. Poor sleep hygiene has been linked to the following conditions:
- High blood pressure. While sleeping, the blood pressure decreases by 10–20% in a cycle known as nocturnal dipping. When the blood pressure doesn’t have a nocturnal dipping cycle, it can lead to overall high blood pressure (hypertension). Not having a nocturnal dipping of the blood pressure can also increase the risk of other conditions, such as stroke and kidney complications.
- Coronary disease. A lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing plaque around the arteries (atherosclerosis). Poor sleep also leads to chronic inflammation and can impact the coronary arteries of the heart. Getting a proper amount of sleep every night decreases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 35%.
- High cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol levels can result from disturbed sleep as the liver's conversion of cholesterol into bile acids is hindered during periods of sleep deprivation.
- Obesity. Not getting enough sleep possibly affects the part of the brain that regulates the hormones that manage hunger, leading to overeating and obesity.
- Heart failure. People who sleep less than 7 hours a night are at an increased risk of heart failure. Poor sleep hygiene, such as insomnia, snoring, daytime sleeping, and being a night person, is said to contribute to an increased risk of developing heart failure.
- Heart attacks. Having a poor amount of sleep at night has been associated with a 20% increased risk of having a heart attack. A disruption in sleep can increase both blood pressure and heart rate, causing cardiac stress.
- Strokes. Sleep deprivation can cause an increase in blood pressure and plaque buildup in the arteries, which is also associated with a higher risk of having a stroke.
- Type 2 diabetes. Sleeping improves blood sugar levels, and lack of sleep increases blood sugar and can damage blood vessels leading to an increased risk of heart disease.
With sleep apnea, the airway is partially or fully blocked and affects the amount of oxygen you get while sleeping. This increases blood pressure and puts you at risk of having a heart attack and stroke.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) insomnia increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. It can also lead to increased stress, lack of motivation, and being less physically active, which can also increase the risk of heart complications.
Other conditions related to poor sleep
Poor sleep can also contribute to the development of various other health conditions, some of which can lead to a higher risk of heart disease. Some of these conditions include:
- Brain fog
- Daytime sleepiness
- Acid reflux
The CDC recommends that adults get 7 or more hours of sleep per night. While individual sleep needs can vary slightly, most adults require around 7 to 9 hours of sleep to maintain optimal health and well-being.
It's important to prioritize and consistently obtain enough sleep to support various bodily functions, including cardiovascular health. By ensuring an adequate amount of sleep on a regular basis, individuals can help reduce the risk of heart-related issues and improve overall health.
If you are struggling with getting a good night's rest, there are many things we can do to improve your sleep habits. Here are a few tips to help improve your sleep hygiene:
- Be consistent. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
- Light exposure. Ensure exposure to natural light during the day, as it helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
- Physical activity. Engage in regular physical activity, but avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime.
- Meal times. Avoid consuming food and drinks a few hours before bedtime, especially those that can disrupt sleep, like caffeine and heavy meals.
- Sleeping environment. Create a sleep-friendly bedroom environment by keeping it dark, quiet, and at a cool temperature.
When to see a doctor
If experiencing persistent sleep issues or concerns about heart health, it is important to consult a doctor. A healthcare professional can provide further evaluation, diagnose sleep conditions, and develop a suitable treatment plan to promote better sleep and protect heart health.
Understanding the impact of poor sleep on heart health is crucial for maintaining overall well-being. By prioritizing sufficient and restorative sleep, adopting good sleep habits, and seeking appropriate medical care when needed, individuals can significantly reduce the risk of heart-related complications and lead healthier lives.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How does sleep affect your heart health?
- Sleep Foundation. How sleep deprivation affects your heart.
- American Heart Association. Adherence to a healthy sleep pattern and incident heart failure.
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Irregular sleep patterns may raise risk of heart disease.
- BMC Medicine. Influence of poor sleep on cardiovascular disease-free life expectancy: a multi-resource-based population cohort study.
Show all references
- Frontiers in Genetics. Sleep Disturbance Induces Increased Cholesterol Level by NR1D1 Mediated CYP7A1 Inhibition.