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The Link Between Sleep and Heart Health

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There is more to staying heart-healthy than eating right and exercise – sleep plays an important role in your overall health and wellbeing. 

Studies have shown that short sleep duration or poor sleep quality is associated with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and atherosclerosis (thickening, hardening, and loss of elasticity of the walls of the arteries). Habitual short sleep may also increase the chance of cardiovascular events. 

Here are a few other ways poor sleep can affect your heart health:

High blood pressure: During normal sleep your blood pressure decreases. When you have trouble sleeping, your blood pressure remains higher for longer periods, which increases your risks for heart disease.

Type 2 diabetes: Past studies have indicated not getting enough sleep significantly increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. In addition, losing as little as two hours of sleep per day may lead to increased insulin resistance and decreased glucose tolerance.

High blood sugar associated with diabetes can increase cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides which ultimately cause damage to nerves and blood vessels. As a result, people with Type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke. 

Obesity: Lack of sleep can lead to unhealthy weight gain, this is especially important for children and adolescents as their sleep requirements are more than adults. Not getting enough sleep may affect a part of the brain that controls hunger.

The link between sleeping disorders and heart disease
People with common sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea are far more likely to have heart arrhythmias, plaque buildup, heart failure, and coronary artery disease. 

Sleep apnea: This occurs when your airway is blocked while you are sleeping, causing you to stop breathing for short amounts of time. Sleep apnea affects how much oxygen your body gets while you sleep. When you stop breathing your oxygen levels decrease which causes your heart to work harder to increase oxygen levels. This extra strain on your heart can put you at increased risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

Insomnia: This refers to trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both. Insomnia is linked to heart disease and high blood pressure. Over time, poor sleep can also lead to unhealthy habits that can affect your heart, including high stress levels, less motivation to be physically active and unhealthy food choices.

There is a strong connection between sleep and cardiovascular health. Lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise may reduce the risk of heart disease, both directly and indirectly, by promoting better sleep. This in turn may lead to a better outlook and more energy assisting in better heart health. 
To learn about heart care at Finley Hospital, visit this link. 

Jolene Fransen, MBA, BS, RRT-SDS, is a registered respiratory therapist at UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital.