The significance of a healthy heart to one’s wellbeing 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.
Among the primary causes of death and sickness in the USA, heart disorders rank high. Sleep deprivation is becoming as well-known as the known consequences of poor food, inadequate exercise, and smoking when it comes to heart health.
Sleep plays a critical role in practically every aspect of physical health, providing the time the body needs to repair and replenish. Sleep deprivation and fragmentation are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular illness, including high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, and stroke.
Therefore, quality sleep may aid in protecting the cardiovascular system and can be an integral aspect of a heart-healthy lifestyle for those who already have heart conditions.
What Happens to the Heart During Sleep
Since the human body is a complicated machine with many moving parts, even when the brain shuts down at night, other systems continue to function to keep the organism alive. By circulating blood throughout the body, the heart delivers oxygen and nutrition to cells and removes carbon dioxide and waste products from the circulation.
In particular, the heart maintains a resting rate of 60–100 beats per minute, while an athlete’s resting heart rate is often lower, in the 40–60 bpm range. A person’s blood pressure naturally drops while they sleep, and shorter sleep durations simply don’t allow enough time for this drop to occur.
Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Heart Health?
Sleeping disorders, such as sleep deprivation and fragmented sleep, have been linked to harmful consequences on cardiovascular health.
The body can only repair itself during sleep. Heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing all normalize during NREM sleep, the stages in which rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is not occurring. These alterations ease the burden on the heart, giving it time to recuperate from the stress of daily life.
The deep stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep are beneficial to cardiovascular health, but they cannot be reached if one does not get enough sleep each night. People whose sleep is frequently disrupted may experience the same issue.
Sleep deprivation has been related to a variety of health issues, including but not limited to: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, obesity, diabetes, and stroke.
Sleep and Blood Pressure
After a night of restful sleep, a person’s blood pressure typically lowers by 10-20%. Nocturnal dipping has been linked to improved heart health, and this phenomenon has been the subject of scientific study.
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. Evidence suggests a correlation between hypertension and having a blood pressure that is consistently high at night (high blood pressure).
It has been established that high blood pressure at night is an even better predictor of cardiovascular issues than high blood pressure during the day. There is a correlation between not dipping and an increased danger of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Kidney issues and decreased cerebral blood flow have also been associated with it.
Multiple studies have shown that sleep loss can lead to an increase in daytime blood pressure, albeit this effect does not hold true for everyone. Middle-aged adults are more vulnerable to the negative effects of sleep deprivation on their blood pressure. It is more likely that those who work long hours in stressful occupations, or who have other risk factors for hypertension, would experience elevated blood pressure following several nights of inadequate sleep.
Sleep and Coronary Heart Disease
Heart attacks are the top cause of death in the United States. Plaque builds up in the arteries, hardening and narrowing them, causing atherosclerosis, also known as coronary artery disease. As a result, the heart is deprived of oxygen and blood.
Lack of sleep 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 aids in the development of arterial plaque and its subsequent stiffening.
It’s thought that the effects of sleep on blood pressure contribute to the link between lack of sleep and coronary heart disease. The arteries become less efficient at transporting 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, the body is deprived of the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function normally. Over 400 thousand participants were observed during this study, and the results showed a high correlation between insomnia and heart failure.
People in the study who slept less than seven hours per night were shown to have a higher chance of developing heart failure. Indicia of poor sleep quality, including as insomnia, daytime sleepiness, snoring, and being a night owl, were all associated with an increased risk of heart failure. The risk of heart failure increases in proportion to the number of these indicators that a person exhibits during sleep.
Sleep and Heart Attacks
Myocardial infarction, sometimes known as a heart attack, occurs when blood supply to the heart is suddenly cut off. Damage to the heart caused by a lack of oxygen can be fatal, which is why heart attacks are so dangerous.
A higher chance of having a heart attack is associated with not getting enough sleep. One study found that a 20% increase in heart attack risk was seen in persons who slept less than six hours per night. While non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep allows your heart to relax and repair, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep causes your heart rate to increase and your muscles to tense up. An imbalance between these stages, brought on by a lack of sleep, has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack.
Heart attacks have also been linked to disturbed sleep. Chronic sleep interruptions can lead to cardiac stress and even a heart attack because of the sudden rise in heart rate and blood pressure that occurs upon awakening.
Sleep and Stroke
In the event of a stroke, blood supply to the brain is interrupted, leading to the death of brain cells due to a lack of oxygen. Strokes caused by ischemia happen when a blood clot or plaque stops an artery. There is only temporary occlusion in a transient ischemic attack (TIA), often known as a mini-stroke.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of stroke in scientific investigations. Lack of sleep raises blood pressure, which is already a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke. Lack of sleep may also contribute to arterial plaque buildup, which in turn can make it easier for blockages to form and cause strokes and other cerebrovascular events.
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.
Getting too little sleep has been linked to weight gain, according to a review of the relevant literature. People with a higher body mass index (BMI) or who are overweight are more likely to sleep fewer than seven hours nightly. Overeating and a craving for high-calorie foods are both exacerbated by a lack of sleep or sleep disruptions since these factors assist regulate the hormones that drive hunger.
Sleep and Type 2 Diabetes
When the body is unable to metabolize sugar efficiently, a person develops type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition characterized by elevated blood sugar levels also known as blood glucose. High blood sugar levels are harmful to cardiovascular health because of the damage they cause to blood vessels. Diabetics have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke than the general population.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation negatively impacts glucose metabolism, which in turn affects blood sugar levels. Prediabetes, an intermediate form of glucose intolerance, is linked to sleep problems. Those who have been diagnosed with diabetes but struggle to get a good night’s rest may find it more difficult to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. The hardening of the arteries in persons with type 2 diabetes may be exacerbated by sleep disturbances.
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. People who have trouble sleeping are more likely to report cardiac rhythm issues, according to the research. Because of these factors, sleep deprivation may contribute to irregular heartbeats.
Furthermore, a study of senior citizens discovered that nightmare sufferers also reported much higher rates of cardiac rhythm disturbances. 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 a variety of potential causes for chest discomfort. Discomfort in the chest known as angina is caused by insufficient blood flow through the arteries. Pain in the chest that is not caused by the heart can be caused by things like acid reflux or a muscle strain.
Studies have found a link between sleep deprivation and chest pain due to the sudden increase in heart rate and blood pressure that occurs when sleep is disturbed.
Sleep disturbances have been linked to non-cardiac chest pain as well. Sleep disturbances are common among those who experience heartburn or acid reflux, which may increase the likelihood that these individuals will also experience chest pain.
There has been a correlation between unexplained chest pain and sleep deprivation in a number of research. There is a strong correlation between people who experience chronic, unexplained chest pain and those who also experience insomnia. Poor sleepers may be more prone to emotional reactions like stress and worry, such as panic attacks, for reasons that aren’t well understood.
Sleep Disorders and Heart Health
Numerous sleep problems are associated with increased cardiovascular risk. A lack of sleep is a prominent symptom of insomnia, the most prevalent sleep problem, which in turn increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure have all been related to the breathing ailment known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In OSA patients, the obstruction of the airway during sleep causes periodic cessation of breathing.
Because OSA-related breathing interruptions disrupt sleep, the disorder is associated with a number of cardiovascular issues. In addition, OSA’s negative effects on heart health may be exacerbated by the fact that irregular breathing patterns diminish blood oxygen levels.
Heart issues have also been connected to sleep movement disorders such restless leg syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder. While the precise cause is uncertain, it may be associated with the aberrant activation of the cardiovascular system that happens in these settings, leading to an increased and erratic heart rate and blood pressure.
Heart disease has been linked to circadian rhythm sleep disturbances, which happen 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 cardiac difficulties because of the extra strain pregnancy puts on their hearts. 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 have insomnia, sleep apnea, and other sleep disturbances; these conditions have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular complications during and after pregnancy. Several ongoing studies are looking into the effects of better sleep on pregnancy outcomes like hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Sleeping Too Much and Heart Health
While research on the effects of sleep deprivation on cardiovascular health has garnered a lot of attention, numerous studies have identified links between sleeping too much (defined as more than nine hours per 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. However, these findings highlight the fact that the belief that more sleep is always preferable is untrue.
Sleep for People With Heart Disease
People with heart conditions should prioritize sleep because of the negative effects that lack of sleep can have on the organ. There’s even some data to suggest that those who get better sleep are less likely to have heart attacks or other cardiovascular disorders.
It’s unfortunate, but some cardiac conditions might make it difficult to get to sleep. Sleep disturbances can be brought on by a variety of medical conditions, including diabetes, which can lead to awakenings for bathroom breaks, and cardiovascular disease, which can produce chest pain that prevents you from falling asleep. Stress and concern about one’s heart health might also make it difficult to unwind and get to sleep at a reasonable hour.
Having a heart-healthy sleep routine discussed with a doctor is recommended because of the complex interplay between a variety of factors that affect both sleep and cardiovascular health. In addition to addressing other lifestyle factors like nutrition and exercise that are crucial for your heart and overall heath, a doctor can help you build a customized plan to enhance your sleep.
Sleep Tips for People With Heart Problems
Although there is no certain method, many persons with cardiac conditions report improvement after implementing the following strategies.
- Learn to unwind if you find that heart worries are giving you anxiety and keeping you up at night. Those who suffer from pericarditis (inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart), heart disease, or other heart disorders that cause chest pain may find relief from deep breathing, yoga, gentle stretching, and mindfulness meditation.
- Create a regular bedtime routine: Consistently adhering to the same bedtime and wake-up time each day is widely recognized as an effective strategy for promoting restful, rejuvenating sleep throughout the week.
- Create a relaxing space to sleep in by customizing your bedroom to your preferences in terms of temperature, lighting, noise level, and the firmness of your mattress and pillow.
- Don’t put yourself in a position to have trouble sleeping by consuming anything with a bad effect on your sleep, such alcohol or caffeine, especially close to bedtime. Many sleep specialists advise putting down the phone at least an hour before bedtime, as well as any other electronic gadgets, in order to promote restful sleep.
These guidelines, together with the rest of good sleep hygiene, can provide the basis for improved slumber, establishing 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.
A shift in heart and lung function may occur when lying on one’s left side, according to some research on persons with congestive heart failure.
Fluid accumulation in the lungs or elsewhere in the body is a symptom of congestive heart failure, which develops when the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently. Patients with congestive heart failure are more likely to avoid sleeping on their left side, and this preference is more pronounced in those with larger heart dimensions. It’s unclear why, but it could be associated with the way that this sleeping position shifts the heart, puts pressure on the lungs, and/or makes the heart seem like it’s pounding against the chest wall.
People with heart failure tend to avoid sleeping on their left side, according to research, but this does not prove that this is because of any risk it poses to the heart. Research to date has not found that a person’s sleeping posture increases their chance of developing heart disease or other cardiovascular disorders.
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