The significance of the heart to overall health cannot be overstated. The heart is the engine that drives the circulatory system, which pumps blood throughout the body and carries oxygen to all the body’s organs and tissues.
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It’s unfortunate that in the United States, heart disease is a major cause of death and disability. There is a rising awareness of the concerns of sleep deprivation for heart health, alongside the well-known risks associated with poor diet, inadequate exercise, and smoking.
Restorative sleep is essential for maintaining good physical health in virtually every way. Problems with blood pressure and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, diabetes, and stroke can be caused by a lack of sleep or sleep that is broken up.
As a result, a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes regular, restful sleep may help protect the cardiovascular system from harm.
What Happens to the Heart During Sleep
The human body is a complicated machine with many working parts, and while the brain may shut down at night, other systems continue to operate. By circulating blood throughout the body, the heart delivers oxygen and nutrition to cells and removes carbon dioxide and waste products from the circulation.
Specifically, a resting heart rate of 40-60 beats per minute is typical for athletes, whereas a resting heart rate of 60-100 beats per minute is normal for a non-athlete. Additionally, blood pressure naturally decreases as people sleep, and shorter sleep durations do not provide for the time required to experience this dip.
Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Heart Health?
There is strong evidence linking sleep disorders like insomnia and restless night’s sleep to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
To repair and renew itself, the body requires sleep. Heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing all decrease and stabilize during NREM sleep. These alterations ease pressure on the heart, letting it rest and repair from the day’s activities.
If you don’t get enough shut-eye each night, you won’t get enough of the restorative deep NREM sleep that’s good for your cardiovascular system. The similar issue occurs in those whose sleep is frequently disrupted.
Therefore, many cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, heart attack, obesity, diabetes, and stroke, have been associated to inadequate sleep over an extended period of time.
Sleep and Blood Pressure
Blood pressure typically decreases by 10-20% during restful, healthy sleep. This practice, known as nocturnal dipping, has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, according to studies.
Non-dipping, in which a person’s blood pressure does not decrease during sleep, is linked to poor sleep quality, such as a lack of sleep or sleep interruptions. Increased BP during sleep has been linked to systemic hypertension, according to research (high blood pressure).
As a matter of fact, research has shown that elevated BP during sleep is an even better predictor of cardiovascular issues than BP during the day. Stroke and heart attack risks are higher in people who don’t dip. Kidney issues and decreased cerebral blood flow have also been associated with it.
Multiple studies have linked insufficient sleep to increased daytime blood pressure, however this effect is not universal. It is middle-aged adults who are most at risk for developing hypertension as a result of insufficient sleep. Blood pressure is more likely to rise after a prolonged lack of sleep in those who work long hours in stressful occupations or who already have other risk factors for hypertension.
Sleep and Coronary Heart Disease
In America, coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death. Atherosclerosis, also known as coronary artery disease, is a disorder in which plaque builds up in the arteries, hardening and narrowing them. Lack of enough blood and oxygen supply to the heart is a consequence of this.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of developing atherosclerosis. Inflammation leads to the accumulation of white blood cells—part of the immune system—in the arteries, where they contribute to the formation of plaque. Inadequate rest causes chronic inflammation, which in turn promotes the development of arterial plaque and its subsequent stiffening.
Sleep’s impacts on blood pressure are thought to contribute to how sleep loss affects coronary heart disease. The arteries become less efficient at carrying blood to the heart when they are stressed by hypertension, which contributes to heart disease.
Sleep and Heart Failure
When the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s oxygen and blood needs, it is said to be suffering from heart failure. Strong connections between insomnia and heart failure were observed in an observational study of almost 400,000 persons.
People in the study who slept fewer than seven hours per night were shown to be at a greater risk of developing heart failure. Insomnia, daytime sleepiness, snoring, and being an evening person were all associated with an increased risk of heart failure. One’s risk of developing heart failure increased in proportion to the number of these symptoms that were present during sleep.
Sleep and Heart Attacks
Myocardial infarction, more commonly known as a heart attack, occurs when blood supply to the heart is interrupted. If the heart stops receiving adequate oxygen, it can be deadly.
Lack of sleep is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. People who slept less than six hours each night were shown to have a 20% increased risk of having a heart attack in one study. Heart rate slows down and recovers during the NREM sleep stage, however there is increased stress and activity during the REM sleep period. The risk of having a heart attack is raised when this natural rhythm is disrupted due to a lack of sleep.
The risk of having a heart attack has also been connected to sleep disruptions. Frequent sleep disturbances can cause cardiac stress and even trigger a heart attack because of the sudden rise in heart rate and blood pressure that occurs upon awakening.
Sleep and Stroke
Brain cells die from a lack of oxygen when blood supply is suddenly cut off, as occurs during a stroke. Strokes caused by ischemia occur when an artery is blocked, either by a clot or by plaque. Mini-strokes, or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), are caused by temporary clots in the blood supply to the brain.
Stroke risk appears to rise in tandem with sleep deprivation, according to the results of several studies. Lack of sleep raises blood pressure, which is already a major risk factor for stroke due to the prevalence of hypertension. Additionally, sleep deprivation may facilitate the development of arterial plaque, which in turn increases the risk of developing arterial blockages that lead to strokes and other neurological complications.
Sleep and Obesity
Hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke are only few of the cardiovascular and metabolic issues that are strongly linked to being overweight or obese.
A review of the literature revealed that not getting enough shut-eye is associated with a higher risk of being overweight. A higher body mass index (BMI) or obesity is more common among people who sleep fewer than seven hours nightly. Lack of sleep or sleep disruptions can cause overeating and increase cravings for high-calorie foods because they disrupt the hormones that control hunger.
Sleep and Type 2 Diabetes
The inability of the body to correctly digest sugar results in the chronic condition known as type 2 diabetes, which is characterized by an abnormally high blood sugar level (also called blood glucose). High glucose levels are harmful to cardiovascular health because they damage blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease and stroke are the leading causes of death for people with diabetes.
Studies have shown that poor glucose metabolism is a direct result of insufficient sleep, which is just one of the many factors that can alter blood sugar. Prediabetes, a kind of glucose intolerance that falls short of the diagnostic criteria for diabetes, is linked to sleep problems. Those who have been diagnosed with diabetes but struggle to get a good night’s rest or experience frequent awakenings may find it more difficult to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. Inadequate sleep has been linked to accelerated atherosclerosis in persons with type 2 diabetes.
Sleep and Heart Rate
During non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, the heart rate naturally decreases and then rises again as you near awakening.
Inadequate sleep, such as being woken up suddenly, can cause a significant increase in heart rate. Those who have trouble sleeping are also more likely to report heart palpitations, according to the study’s authors. Due to these factors, it’s possible that sleep deprivation causes irregular heartbeats.
Another study involving adults indicated that those who regularly have nightmares are far more likely to report having cardiac rhythm problems. If a person’s sleep is interrupted by a nightmare, they may wake up feeling like their heart is racing because of the stress of the experience.
Sleep and Chest Pain
There are numerous potential causes of chest pain. When blood flow in the heart’s arteries becomes restricted, a patient experiences angina, which manifests as chest pain. Heartburn and muscle injuries are two common causes of chest pain that are unrelated to the heart.
Studies have found a link between sleep deprivation and chest pain due to a sudden increase in heart rate and blood pressure.
Pain in the chest that isn’t caused by a heart problem often coincides with a lack of sleep. Many people who experience acid reflux or heartburn also have trouble sleeping, which may increase the likelihood that these two issues will intersect in their lives.
Lack of sleep has been linked to unexplained chest pain in multiple studies. Frequent, unexplained chest discomfort is associated with elevated rates of sleeplessness. Stress, anxiety, and panic reactions are emotional reactions that may be more likely in persons who have inadequate sleep, while the exact nature of this connection is not well understood.
Sleep Disorders and Heart Health
Heart health can be negatively impacted by a number of different sleep problems. One of the most frequent sleep disorders, insomnia, is associated with sleep deprivation and increased risks to cardiovascular health.
There is evidence linking the breathing ailment known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) to cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure. When sleeping, people with OSA stop breathing repeatedly because their airway collapses.
A lack of continuous, restful sleep is one of the reasons that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is linked to a variety of heart issues. An additional factor that may amplify the negative effects of OSA on cardiovascular health is disrupted breathing, which lowers blood oxygen levels.
Heart issues have also been connected to sleep movement disorders such restless leg syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder. We don’t know for sure, but it might have something to do with the aberrant activation of the cardiovascular system that occurs in these states and causes the increased and erratic heart rate and blood pressure that characterize these disorders.
Heart disease has been linked to circadian rhythm sleep disturbances, which occur when a person’s internal clock doesn’t keep the right time of day. Night shift workers, who often have to sleep during the day, are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and have a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke.
Sleep and Heart Health During Pregnancy
Some pregnant women experience cardiovascular issues because of the extra load pregnancy places on the heart. A mother’s and her child’s health may be jeopardized by the development or worsening of certain conditions, such as high blood pressure.
Many pregnant women struggle with insomnia, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders, and these conditions have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular complications during and after pregnancy. Studies are still being conducted to determine the best techniques to enhance pregnant women’s sleep in order to lower the risk of hypertension and other cardiovascular complications.
Sleeping Too Much and Heart Health
While research on the effects of sleep deprivation on cardiovascular health has received a lot of attention, numerous studies have discovered links between excessive sleep, or sleeping for more than nine hours a night, and cardiovascular issues.
More evidence is needed, but many professionals suspect that the increased prevalence of cardiac problems is linked to the underlying health conditions that induce excessive sleeping. Though, this information serves as a reminder that the belief that more sleep is always preferable is a misconception.
Sleep for People With Heart Disease
Heart patients should prioritize sleep because of the known negative effects of sleep deprivation. In fact, there’s some data suggesting that those who get better sleep are less likely to suffer from heart attacks or other cardiovascular disorders.
Insomnia is a common side effect of heart disorders. Diabetes, for instance, might result in the need to urinate repeatedly through the night, and chest pain caused by heart disease can make it difficult to fall asleep. Stress and concern about one’s heart health might also make it difficult to unwind and get to sleep at a reasonable hour.
The best way to get advice from your doctor on how to get heart-healthy sleep is to talk to them about the many factors that can affect both sleep and cardiovascular health. A doctor can help you come up with a personalized plan to enhance your sleep and other lifestyle factors like nutrition and exercise that contribute to heart health and general well-being.
Sleep Tips for People With Heart Problems
While there is no magic bullet, many patients with heart problems can benefit from the following strategies.
- Learn to unwind if you find that heart issues are causing you stress and keeping you awake at night. When dealing with chest pain due to pericarditis (inflammation of the heart’s lining), heart disease, or another heart-related issue, some helpful techniques include deep breathing, yoga, gentle stretching, and mindfulness meditation.
- Make a regular timetable for going to bed and waking up: One of the most effective methods for promoting consistent and restful sleep from night to night is to adhere to a regular bedtime and wake-up schedule.
- Room layout considerations for welcoming guests: Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by arranging for a soft mattress and pillow, a cool room, complete silence, and complete darkness.
- Don’t let anything ruin your sleep: Since both alcohol and caffeine have been shown to disrupt sleep, they should be avoided in the evenings. Experts recommend putting away electronics, including your cell phone, at least an hour before bedtime because of their potential disruptive effects on sleep.
These suggestions, together with the rest of good sleep hygiene, can provide the basis for improved slumber, fostering routines that make it less of a struggle to acquire the required amount and quality of sleep.
Does Sleeping Position Affect Heart Health?
The effects of one’s sleeping position on cardiovascular health are not well established.
Sleeping on one’s left side may affect heart and lung function, according to certain research focusing on persons with congestive heart failure.
When the heart is unable to adequately pump blood to the body, a condition known as congestive heart failure sets develop. In patients with congestive heart failure, sleeping on the left side is associated with a worsening of symptoms, and this impact is magnified in those with larger heart dimensions, according to research. Although the specific cause is unknown, it may be associated with how this sleeping position shifts the heart, puts pressure on the lungs, and/or makes the heart feel like it’s pounding against the chest wall.
Studies have shown that persons with heart failure are more likely to avoid sleeping on their left side, but this does not prove that avoiding the left side is harmful to the heart. To present, studies have not linked a person’s sleeping posture to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.