Can a lack of sleep affect my heart?

Studies show that a good night’s sleep can lower your risk for heart disease.

  • Bad sleep habits are tied to high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
  • New research shows that adults with high blood pressure or diabetes who sleep poorly are at risk for heart disease or stroke.

[3 MIN READ]

What do you think of when you consider a heart-healthy lifestyle? Healthy meals? A rigorous exercise routine?

You might be surprised to know that healthy sleep habits are just as important as those leafy greens and laps around the track. And people who already have high blood pressure or diabetes can benefit even more from a full night of shut-eye.

Healthy sleep habits are just as important as those leafy greens and laps around the track.

Read on to learn more about how catching some more zzz’s may help you safeguard your heart.

What the research says

Earlier this year, a study published by the American Heart Association showed that certain middle-aged adults had an increased risk of early death and cancer when they slept for less than six hours a night.

Researchers looked at the sleep habits of more than 1,600 adults between 1991 and 1998. Then, the study tracked their cause of death until 2016.

Over time, the study found that people with high blood pressure or diabetes who slept less than six hours a night were twice as likely to die from a heart attack or stroke. They were also three times more likely to die from cancer.

Another study released this year showed that people who have trouble sleeping are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. The study examined more than 487,000 people in China who suffered from insomnia and tracked their health for an average of 10 years.

"The link between insomnia symptoms and these diseases was even stronger in younger adults and people who did not have high blood pressure at the start of the study, so future research should look especially at early detection and interventions aimed at these groups," one researcher noted. 

How sleep affects your heart

Science has shown that sleep helps our bodies recover from the daily grind and function properly.

Sleep facts:

  • Your blood pressure goes down when you sleep, so if you don’t get enough rest, it stays higher for most of the day. Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries and organs, increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Sleep balances blood sugar levels and helps you better control your hunger so you don’t overeat.
  • Breathing normally while sleeping can restore your balance of oxygen. But certain sleep conditions, like sleep apnea, can harm your heart due to a lack of oxygen intake.

Tips for healthier sleep

The American Heart Association recommends most adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. If you’ve been struggling to get a good night’s sleep, try these tips:

Create a serene sleeping space

Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and set at a comfortable temperature. If your work schedule has you sleeping during the day, consider getting blackout curtains for your windows.

Take work and TV elsewhere

Avoid using your bedroom for work or watching TV — these activities can potentially disrupt your sleep or keep you up late.

Stick to the same sleep schedule

Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Make sure you’re sticking to this schedule on the weekends, too.

Exercise during the day

Exercise can help you feel better during the day and improve your sleep at night. However, avoid exercising close to bedtime, which can have the opposite effect when your body needs to wind down.

Watch when you eat

Try to avoid eating or drinking within a couple of hours before bedtime. It’s especially important to avoid alcohol, sugar and fatty foods, as these can disrupt your sleep.

Put the phone away

Artificial light, including the blue light from a smartphone, can keep you up and make it difficult to fall asleep. Try to avoid any screen (television, computer or phone) a couple of hours before bedtime. Instead, find a new activity to wind down, like reading or meditation.

Try to avoid any screen (television, computer or phone) a couple of hours before bedtime. 

Find a doctor

If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or care team — they can help you find ways to improve your sleep routine and overall health. You can find a Providence cardiologist using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

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Are you getting enough sleep for your heart? Learn how a heathy sleep habit can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. #heart #health @psjh

Resources:

The A to Zzzzs of not getting enough sleep

What women need to know about sleep problems

A good night’s sleep: Why we need it now, more than ever

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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