JAN 11, 2019 1:00 PM PST

Quality Sleep Protects The Heart

WRITTEN BY: Abbie Arce

Research has revealed an association between not getting enough sleep and conditions of the heart such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and more.

Research funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute focused on how we breathe while sleeping, in what ways sleep deficiencies affect us and what biomarkers can be measured to assess sleep quality. Researchers hope that what they learn in the laboratory might one day reduce the health risks associated with sleep disorders and other common causes of sleeplessness.

Not only those with sleep disorders go without enough shut-eye. Studies indicate that sleeplessness is a widespread and growing problem. Almost a third of adults in the US report getting less sleep than recommended. The problem is not only limited to occasional occurrences. Instead, most often insufficient sleep is the standard. This chronically poor-quality sleep is something that experts feel can pose a danger to your heart health.

Fortunately, for those struggling to get enough sleep, science has identified some of the best ways to coax your body into getting better rest.

One recommendation is to occasionally look into the sleep environment that you’ve created. This includes things like lighting, room temperature, and noise. You should also consider what nighttime sleep habits you’ve developed over time. One of the things to look out for is computer and cell phone screens. Research funded in part by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, has shown that smartphone use before sleep is associated with poor sleep quality and rest of a shorter duration. Other things to avoid just before bed include alcohol, caffeine, and strenuous bouts of exercise.

Experts also recommend giving yourself 7 to 8 hours to sleep each night. This may be difficult to do at first, but research shows it is important for warding off high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and unhealthy fat distribution in the abdomen.

Not only is setting aside enough time for sleep essential but when you carve out that time each night proves important as well. Studies suggest that going to sleep and rising at the same time every day not only gets you to sleep faster and more deeply but also benefits the heart.

A study of 978 older adults found that those with regular sleep and wake times weighed less, and had lower blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart attack or stroke within ten years then did adults with irregular sleep patterns.

Another often overlooked component to getting a healthy amount of sleep is sun exposure. Natural light helps the body associate daytime with being awake, and nighttime with being asleep. If you do not get any natural light throughout a typical day try to find ways to incorporate short breaks outside into your routine or consider investing in some special lighting to help your body separate when it is time to be awake, and when it is time to be asleep. Once implemented, these measures will take some time to pay off as it takes the body a week or so to adjust. 

If sleep doesn’t improve after making these sleep healthy changes to your routine consider seeing a professional. Common sleep problems like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia can be diagnosed after a sleep evaluation, and you can work with your doctor towards a great night's sleep. 

The above video from Howard County General Hospital includes some information on how sleep disorders are diagnosed.


Sources: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

About the Author
  • Abbie is an AFAA certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with an interest in all things health-science. She has recently graduated with her BS in Applied Sport and Exercise Science from Barry University in Miami. Next, she intends to earn an MPH with a focus in Epidemiology.
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