Did you know getting enough sleep can help prevent heart disease?

February is American Heart Month, which is a good time to assess heart-healthy habits. For example, consider adding more fiber to your diet. Manage stress and get regular physical activity. But something else that may not seem connected to heart health also plays a major role: quality sleep.

Continue reading to learn why the two are connected, along with tips to improve sleep quality to boost heart health and overall wellness.

Why sleep matters

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults who sleep fewer than seven hours each night are more likely to develop health problems. These include cardiovascular disease, asthma, and depression. The CDC notes that issues like these raise the risk of heart attack and stroke. Here are four top examples:

  • High blood pressure: During normal sleep cycles, blood pressure decreases. This helps your body to recover from everyday stressors. If you have trouble sleeping, like insomnia or disrupted sleep, your blood pressure stays higher for a longer period of time. That means your heart continues to work harder than it would otherwise.
  • Type 2 diabetes: The CDC notes that when sleep problems persist over time, it can increase insulin resistance in the body. This means you're at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. This condition can damage blood vessels. It can also increase the risk of cardiovascular events as a result. Poor sleep can make managing diabetes harder. It also significantly raises the likelihood of heart problems for those with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
  • Weight gain: Lack of sleep has been linked to a higher risk of becoming overweight or developing obesity. A research review looked at decreased sleep duration and poor sleep quality. It found that sleep loss can change certain metabolic functions and hormone regulation. As a result, this can lead to weight gain even if your diet remains the same.
  • Depression: The connection between sleep problems and depressive symptoms is well established. One issue worsens the other. For example, those with depression often struggle with sleep quality. This then makes their mental health issues harder to manage. Research indicates that this combination also increases heart disease risk.

Risks can be even more profound if sleep is disrupted due to the presence of a challenge like sleep apnea. This condition blocks your airway repeatedly during sleep, leading to brief but frequent moments of stopped breath. Research indicates that sleep apnea increases the risk of heart failure by 140%, the risk of stroke by 60%, and the risk of coronary heart disease by 30%. Because of that, those researchers suggest this condition may be as big a public health hazard as smoking.

Tips for better sleep

Wanting more quality sleep is one thing and getting it is another. In many cases, if you're sleeping poorly, it's likely you'll have to experiment to find what strategies work best for you.

The CDC recommends these as a starting point:

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule, even on the weekends and holidays. This means going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning.
  • Get natural light at some point during the day, ideally in the morning. It has been shown to improve sleep quality overall. Bonus: research suggests it helps your mood as well.
  • It's not advisable to exercise within a few hours of bedtime. Getting physical activity during the day can help with sleep in general.
  • Avoid eating or drinking within a few hours of bedtime. In particular, avoid alcohol, caffeine, and foods high in fat or sugar.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
  • Have a routine that gets you ready for bed. You could write in a journal, meditate, take a warm bath, or do gentle stretching exercises.

If you've tried tactics like this and still feel unrefreshed, talk to your primary care doctor about other possibilities. This could include sleep apnea treatment or stress-reduction therapies. Remember that your health is unique to you. So, what works best for someone else might not work the same way for you. Try to incorporate some of the tips above—and notice how they impact your sleep routine.

For more health and wellness education, follow @MGBHealthPlan on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.



Back to Blog