Seven hours of sleep each night.
That’s the gold standard according to the CDC. Yet, 1 in 3 American adults admit, they’re not getting the recommended amount.
For many, getting adequate sleep is a casual afterthought to the myriad of things they want to accomplish during waking hours. But as it turns out, the outcome of not getting enough sleep can be far more severe than just “feeling tired.”
Why is sleep so important?
“Sleep is regenerative,” explained Dr. Samantha Kapphahn, Cardiologist at ThedaCare. “This is your body’s opportunity to restore, recharge and recover from strain that occurs during your waking hours.”
Good sleep, specifically the deep sleep that occurs during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stages, is essential to mental and physical health. It improves our ability to focus, make sound decisions, have energy, manage our weight and fight infections. Additionally, as your heart rate slows, blood pressure drops and breathing stabilizes during NREM sleep, it reduces stress on the heart and prevents damage to the cardiovascular system.
For those getting inadequate or interrupted sleep on a regular basis – otherwise known as chronic sleep deprivation – the heart doesn’t have enough time to recuperate, often resulting in heart conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attack, obesity, diabetes and stroke.
What are the potential consequences of not getting enough sleep?
As mentioned above, inadequate sleep can lead to a myriad of health concerns, including serious heart conditions.
“Think about all of the tools and resources we depend on to function in our daily life,” said Dr. Kapphahn. “At some point, everything needs a chance to recharge. The heart is no different. If it never stops working at full speed, it will inevitably break down.”
That breakdown could have severe, or even fatal, repercussions. Without proper rest, you are at higher risk for:
- Heart Attacks: Insufficient and interrupted sleep can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure, causing cardiac stress that may induce a heart attack.
- Stroke: Sleep deprivation increases blood pressure, the leading risk factor for strokes.
- Obesity: Getting less than seven hours of sleep each night has been linked to higher body mass index (BMI), contributing to numerous cardiovascular and metabolic problems.
- Type 2 Diabetes: A lack of sleep can worsen glucose metabolism. An excess of blood glucose can damage blood vessels, negatively affecting cardiovascular health.
- High Blood Pressure: Blood pressure goes down during normal sleep. Without adequate sleep, your blood pressure will stay higher for longer periods of time.
- Irregular Heartbeat: Poor sleep, including abrupt awakenings, can cause a sharp uptick in heart rate, and may lead to heart palpitations.
- Chest Pain: Quick surges in heart rate and blood pressure – like those that accompany interrupted sleep – can cause cardiac chest pain.
How can you improve your sleep habits?
“Fortunately, there are a lot of methods for improving sleep, and most don’t require much effort,” said Dr. Kapphahn. “Making a few minor adjustments to your daily routine can make all the difference.”
Here are a few suggestions for improving your sleep habits:
- Keep a regular schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, including the weekends, to ensure a stable sleep schedule.
- Get enough natural light and physical activity. Get outside as much as possible and incorporate physical movement, even if it’s just a quick lunchtime walk.
- Avoid technology. Ditch electronic devices, including your cell phone, at least an hour before bedtime.
- Be mindful of your food and drink intake. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and foods high in fat or sugar as you’re nearing bedtime.
- Aim for comfort. Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Ensure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow as well.
- Relax. Try techniques like deep breathing, yoga, light stretching and meditation to help you calm down before bedtime.
Keep in mind, there could be something more serious to blame for trouble sleeping. If changes to your habits and lifestyle don’t improve your ability to sleep, you might be suffering from a sleep disorder. Certain sleep conditions, such as sleep apnea or insomnia, can increase your risk for sleep-related heart problems and should be discussed and treated by a medical professional.
“Take your sleep seriously,” advised Dr. Kapphahn. “It could save your life.”
If you’re struggling to get adequate, quality sleep, your primary care provider can help you get back on the right track.