The Correlation Between Sleep and Heart Health
As kids, most people fight the impulse to nap. In high school and throughout early adulthood, sleep is often sacrificed in the interest of an active social life or work responsibilities. Indeed, most people play fast and loose with sleep patterns, completely unaware of the close correlation between sleep and heart health. While binge watching the last season of a show on Netflix might seem like a rewarding decision at three in the morning, the associated health cost could potentially be much more serious than expected. Although the risk for heart disease increases with age, studies have shown that even adolescents who don’t get enough sleep can develop various cardiovascular problems.
What Happens to the Heart During Sleep
The human body is a complex mechanism with a lot of moving parts, so when the mind powers down at the end of the night, other organs keep chugging along to keep the whole machine alive. By pumping blood throughout the body, the heart supplies the needed nutrients and oxygen to the body’s tissues while also removing the resultant carbon dioxide and bodily waste in a perfectly orchestrated system circuit.
Specifically, the heart continues to pump at a resting rate of 60-100 beats per minute, while an athlete’s resting heart rate is more likely to reside within the 40-60 beat ranges. Additionally, as people sleep, their blood pressure drops, and shorter periods of sleep simply does not provide the amount of time needed to experience this dip.
Heart Problems Resulting from Sleep Deprivation
Although it is not fully clear why sleep deprivation has such damaging effects on heart health, scientists do understand that it causes interruptions in elemental health functions and biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation. Risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease is increased in those who do not get enough sleep, regardless if the person is young and healthy.
Heart palpitations are also a serious condition to consider. Caused by a disruption in the heart’s normal electrical function, heart palpitations can present as skipped beats, pauses or extra heartbeats that cause a fluttering or flip-flopping sensation. Of the myriad of factors that can lead to palpitations, such as excessive caffeine and constant stress, lack of sleep has been linked to incidents of heart palpitations.
Sleep Disorders Can Be a Big Problem
The overdue power bill is not the only thing that might keep someone up at night. In addition to stress and the tendency to binge watch favorite shows, people suffering from various sleep disorders experience a heightened risk to their heart health.
Long-extended, sleepless nights are a harbinger of problematic heart conditions. Increased stress hormones, elevated blood pressure and accelerated heart rate are all results of insomnia and risk factors for heart failure. In fact, a recent 2013 study noted a direct link between subjects suffering from insomnia and heightened cardiovascular risk factors.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that interrupts a person’s sleeping patterns by causing their breathing to pause or shrink for up to 30 times an hour. As related to the cardiovascular system, this causes the heart to think it needs to constantly adjust for such factors as oxygen levels, blood pressure and heart rate. This cycle repeats itself throughout the night, denying the heart much-needed rest.
The Myth of “Catching Up”
Most people believe that their late nights of little sleep can be “made up” by sleeping extra hours on the weekends. Studies show that this habit can actually lower cardiovascular health even more. Unfortunately, the damage done to the cardiovascular system on Tuesday night was done on Tuesday night, and sleeping in on Saturday is not going to help that situation. In other words, there is no such thing as “sleep debt.”
Researchers are in agreement that best thing someone can do to protect their heart against the unfortunate correlation between lack of sleep and heightened cardiovascular risks is to get more sleep each and every night.
Best Practices for Healthy Sleep
In fact, they recommend patients get at least seven hours of sleep per night. Research shows that adults who sleep fewer than six hours per night have a twice as likely chance of having a stroke or heart attack than those who sleep 6-8 hours per night. The body and mind require this amount of sleep for optimal performance, and a world of 24-hour television, multiple-screen usage and seemingly constant stress make it increasingly difficult.
Sleep experts recommend the following tips to help people get the sleep they need:
- Try to avoid taking naps during the day. Midday naps can disrupt natural, nighttime sleep patterns, but if absolutely necessary, limit them to 20-30 minutes.
- Power down all electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime. Unnatural light sources trick the body into thinking that it is time to wake up.
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will help the body naturally develop healthy sleep patterns.
- Remain active during the day and avoid caffeine after 5:00 p.m. to set the body up for a successful, restful night.