When it comes to maintaining a healthy heart, most people know they should eat healthy, exercise, and avoid smoking. But what few people know is that sleep directly impacts your heart health. A lack of sleep can lead to a heart attack or stroke and can increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.
The impact of sleep length on heart health has been proven in numerous clinical studies. In a study published in the European Heart Journal, researchers examined the sleep habits of 475,000 participants in 15 previous studies. What they found is that chronic sleep deprivation—less than six hours a night—raised the risk of developing or dying from heart disease by 48% and stroke by 15%!
Another study released by the European Society of Cardiology showed that 50-year-old men who get five hours (or less) of sleep each night were twice as likely to have a significant cardiovascular event within the next two decades than those who got seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
A lack of sleep is also strongly associated with diabetes, which can contribute to heart disease. In a study published in the Annals of Epidemiology, researchers at the State University of New York and the Warwick Medical school determined that people who slept less than six hours a night were more likely to have impaired fasting glucose than those who slept six to eight hours a night—which can lead to diabetes.
How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart?
A lack of sleep affects your heart in several important ways. When you’re sleep deprived, your body produces less of the satiety chemical leptin, the messenger that tells you you’re full. So, if you’re not sleeping enough you’re more likely to eat which can contribute to diabetes and heart disease.
A chronic lack of sleep also heightens your sympathetic tone, raising your levels of stress hormones that contribute to heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. Plus, while you sleep your blood pressure is naturally lower, so not sleeping enough can keep your blood pressure elevated for more time throughout the day.
How Much Sleep Do You Need for Heart Health?
Sleep needs can vary from person to person, but in general you want to strive to consistently get between seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Here’s how to ensure you get enough sleep each night.
- Keep a Consistent Bedtime: Going to bed at about the same time each night, preferably by 10:00 p.m., puts you in line with your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.
- Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine After 12 p.m.: Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you from falling asleep. And alcohol may make you drowsy initially, but several hours later it can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night—disrupting your sleep.
- Skip the Warm Milk: We’ve long been told to drink a glass of warm milk at bedtime because the tryptophan will help you sleep. But while milk does contain some tryptophan, milk is also high in sugar which can stimulate you instead of helping you get to sleep. Instead, I recommend eating other tryptophan-rich foods such as turkey, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cheese, whole grain oatmeal, and poached eggs.
- Avoid Eating Sugar Near Bedtime: Eating foods high in sugar near bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep. Plus, it can wake you up in the middle of the night when your blood sugar drops.
- Keep Your Bedroom Cool and Dark: Darkness signals your body to produce melatonin, the hormone that helps you to sleep soundly.
- Have a Cup of Herbal Tea Near Bedtime: Choose a tea that contains valerian or chamomile, both of which help to make you drowsy.
- Remove Electromagnetic Fields (EMF’s) from Your Bedroom: EMF’s which are emitted by electronic devices such as televisions, computers, cell and cordless phones, create chaotic vibrations that interfere with sleep and can lower your sleep-producing melatonin levels. If you must have an electronic clock in your bedroom, keep it at least four feet away from your bed.
- Sleep Grounded: Grounding (also known as Earthing) is the practice of reconnecting the body with the energy naturally present on the Earth’s surface, which helps reduce stress and balance the body. Practicing grounding is as simple as walking barefoot outside, or sitting, lying, or sleeping on special conductive devices (such as pads for the floor or bed) that are plugged into grounded standard three-pronged electrical outlets.