How does sleep specifically impact our heart health? As with most health-related questions, the answer is, in more ways than one! It turns out that sleep actually affects pretty much every process that takes place in the body, including our hard-working cardiovascular system. You’ll want to curl up in bed for this read…

What is ‘enough sleep’?

It is recommended for the vast majority of adults to get between 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. This potentially increases to 8-10 hours for people who are recovering from sickness or injury, and also for athletes who are undergoing training.  

What is ‘quality sleep’?

Our sleep quality refers to the capability of our body and mind to go through our four sleep stages five times consecutively per night. Some things can impact this, such as intoxication, stress disorders, mental health disorders, sleep disorders, food consumption close to bedtime, light consumption close to bedtime, and more.

You can actually track sleep quality and quantity through sleep tracking apps that record audio to listen for changes in your breathing and heart rate, which change as we go through different sleep stages.  There have been indications that the quality (including slow wave sleep) may tie to heart health risks.1

Why is it important to sleep?

When we don’t get enough sleep, the body isn’t able to repair itself adequately, it’s unable to correctly consolidate memory, and it doesn’t have time to prepare and regulate all of the hormones we need to function properly. Sleep is responsible for reducing inflammation, repairing tissues post-exercise, and all sorts of other great stuff.

So yes, sleep quality and quantity has a huge impact on our health and can strongly influence our heart health. Lack of sleep actually negatively impacts some key drivers of heart disease, such as diabetes, obesity, and cholesterol abnormalities.2  We’ll touch on some other contributor examples later.

Sleepless Nights: Symptom or Root Cause?

Sleep disruptions and sleep apnea are present in two-thirds of people with insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and diabetes. But did the individual get sleep apnea because they developed insulin resistance and gained weight? Or did the disrupted sleep lead to insulin resistance as we know it can?

When we don’t get enough sleep, we have elevated levels of insulin, glucose, and cortisol. We look for immediate energy in quick, convenient foods that will keep our insulin and glucose levels high, which typically means we opt for foods that aren’t so great for our health; foods that perpetuate insulin resistance and diabetes.

It’s not just about insulin resistance and diabetes though. Not sleeping is a risk factor for obesity, cancer, dementia, autoimmune diseases, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, along with heart disease, and many other health concerns…

For many of these above conditions, it’s often a struggle to identify what came first, however in all cases, fixing sleep quality and quantity is paramount for long-lasting health.

More Specific Heart Changes

Blood pressure and heart rate decrease while we’re asleep. People who are sleep-deprived don’t experience these same changes in blood pressure and heart rate, often resulting in a perpetually high heart rate.3

Studies have shown that there is a link between a lack of sleep and artery calcification4, otherwise known as calcium deposits in the arteries, which as you can imagine is not something you want in your arteries. While we sleep, very important cleaning processes happen all throughout the body, and decalcification in the arteries is one of them that affects our heart health.

How To Sleep More

It’s impossible to completely change our sleep routines overnight, especially if we’ve been 6 or less hour sleepers for years! That’s why making small changes over time adds up to a big difference. Here are some sleep tips to get you started.

  1. Dim the lights in your home a couple of hours before sleep: this helps us naturally produce our sleepy hormone, melatonin, earlier.
  2. Reduce screen consumption 3 hours before bedtime: screens make our brain think it’s daytime, delaying melatonin production!
  3. Finish eating 3 hours before bedtime: so that our bodies aren’t hard at work digesting when we should be sleeping
  4. Regulate the temperature in your bedroom to between 60 - 67 degrees Fahrenheit: The core body temperature needs to drop 1-2 degrees in order to initiate sleep. If you can’t regulate the temperature of your room, you can try sleeping with a window open, or sleeping in very light clothin with socks on to charm the blood back to the core, to regulate body temperature while we sleep.

Be sure to check back soon for more articles about how to improve your sleep quality and quantity to improve your health.