How To Get Better Sleep For A Healthier Heart

June 12, 2021

How To Get Better Sleep For A Healthier Heart

If you’ve ever caught yourself tossing and turning in bed for hours on end, you’re not alone! Around 10-30% of adults experience chronic insomnia, and women are up to 40% more likely to struggle with insomnia than men. [1,2


Unsurprisingly, it’s vital to get high-quality sleep and manage any sleep disorders. That’s because sleep is essential for survival, just like food and water. [3]


Sleep allows your body and mind to undergo the crucial phase of rest and repair, so you are recharged to take on activities the next day. Besides that, sleep helps your body to remain healthy, enabling your immune system to stage defense and ward off diseases. [4


Studies have also shown that sleep deprivation is linked to poor focus and concentration. A lack of sleep will hinder your ability to create or maintain pathways in the brain involved in the formation of new memories. [3]


There are multitudes of reasons why sleep can impact your health, and this includes the health of your heart! Let’s explore the effect sleep has on the functioning of your cardiovascular system. Plus, we’ll look at some practical tips that may assist you in attaining better sleep at night!  


How does sleep affect the heart? 


Sleep allows your heart and body to recuperate. Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart failure, and heart attacks. [5,6]

Research studies have demonstrated the following:-

  • Sleep deprivation can elevate daytime blood pressure. People who work jobs with high-stress levels or have risk factors for hypertension are more likely to experience high blood pressure from chronic lack of sleep. [7
  • In the long run, lack of sleep can cause atherosclerosis, a condition where plaque builds up in your arteries. This condition hinders the supply of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to muscles in your heart. [8
  • There is a likely strong association between sleeping disorders and the occurrence of heart failure. [9
  • Chronic sleep deprivation increases your risk of heart attacks, also known as myocardial infarction. One study found that participants who had less than 6 hours of sleep at night were 20% more likely to experience a heart attack. [10

From this, we can see that sleep has a profound impact on your heart’s health. Undeniably, high-quality and sufficient sleep is linked to the preservation of your heart's function. [5]


How do I determine if I’m getting good sleep? 


You may notice some red flags when it comes to getting quality sleep. Consider working on improving your sleep quality if you are:-


  • Unable to fall asleep after spending more than 30 minutes in bed [11
  • Constantly waking up more than once in the middle of the night [11
  • Gaining weight and feel hungry more often [12
  • Easily flustered, angry, stressed out, or exhausted [13]
  • Having trouble concentrating and constantly feeling tired or groggy throughout the day. You may be relying on caffeinated beverages heavily to keep you going. [14

On the flip side, you may notice some positive signs of good-quality sleep. If you can fall asleep within 30 minutes of getting into bed and have an uninterrupted sleep (waking up not more than once) each night, you’re off to a great start. In addition to that, if you attain the recommended amount of sleep based on your age group each night, that’s another great sign! [11


Lastly, you can judge the quality of your sleep by looking at how effectively you function the next day. Are you able to focus and concentrate reasonably well on tasks? Do you feel energized or rejuvenated when you awake in the morning? If your answer is yes, then congratulations! You are likely getting quality sleep at night. [11

However, if you can’t check any of these ‘high-quality sleep’ boxes, don’t raise the white flag just yet! There are some steps (explained further down) you can take to achieve better sleep at night. 


What are some reasons for poor sleep quality? 


Poor sleep quality can be attributed to a single factor or a combination of several factors. One common factor is poor sleep hygiene. For example, having irregular sleeping patterns can confuse your body and make it more challenging to fall asleep quickly. [11


Additionally, people who have mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders are more likely to struggle with getting proper sleep. Unfortunately, many of them find themselves exasperated and trapped in a never-ending cycle as lack of sleep can, in turn, worsen their depression or anxiety. [15

Chronic health conditions, such as asthma, cancer, or acid reflux, can also affect sleep quality. [11] Besides that, some diabetic patients may face challenges in getting uninterrupted sleep at night. Some of these patients may need to get up several times during the night to use the bathroom, disrupting their sleep. 

Lastly, sleeping disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome can diminish a person's sleep quality. 


How much sleep do I need for a healthy heart? 


This depends mainly on your age group. Teenagers (13-18 years of age) require 8-10 hours of sleep per 24 hours. [16]  


Adults aged 18-60 require seven or more hours of sleep at night. Those between 61-64 years of age are recommended to get 7-9 hours of sleep, while adults 65 years and older should attain 7-8 hours of sleep per 24 hours. [16]  


How do I improve my sleep quality? 


Getting high-quality sleep at night can boost your physical health, mental health, and productivity. Here are some practical tips you can incorporate into your daily routine for better sleep and a healthier heart! 


Tip 1: Adjusting your exposure to light 


We understand how challenging it is to get off Netflix after binge-watching several episodes of your favorite series. However, it’s best to avoid watching shows, especially those that keep you on the edge of your seat, too close to bedtime. [17


Allow yourself some device-free time (preferably an hour or two) before sleeping to fully unwind and relax before sleeping. Blue light from your laptop, TV, smartphone, or tablet can be very disruptive. So, switch that mobile phone to airplane mode, keep those devices away, and when it’s time to sleep, keep your room as dark as possible. [17

If you get too bored, replace scrolling through social media or watching TV shows with listening to music or audiobooks instead. [17


Another practical thing to do is to expose yourself to some bright light in the morning. Soaking in the morning sunlight is a fantastic way to elevate those serotonin levels and boost your mood throughout the day! [17,18

Tip 2: Take note of what you eat or drink 


There’s a reason why parents refuse to hand their children sweet treats and candies at night. Sugar does not discriminate, though! Large amounts of sugary foods can drag you out of the deep and restorative stages of sleep, even if you’re a full-grown adult. So, try your best to resist the temptation of taking too many sugary foods close to bedtime. [17


Besides that, smoking, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea can act as stimulants. These may keep you wide-eyed and awake late into the night, so it's best to steer clear of them nearing your bedtime. Also, try to avoid drinking too much water or fluids before heading off to bed. Doing this helps eradicate the need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. [17


Whenever possible, avoid large meals at night, and stay away from rich and filling foods at least two hours before sleep. [17

Tip 3: Create a sleep-inducing environment 


Many of us are probably guilty of using devices such as phones or laptops while lying in bed. Unfortunately, as comfortable as it is, that is not a good habit to nurture. Instead, reserve the bed for purely sleeping and sexual intimacy. Doing this will condition your brain and body to associate the bedroom with sleep and sex only. [17


Other than that, consider investing in high-performance pillows and mattresses, as well as quality bedding and sheets. Try to eliminate the noise of lively streets or inconsiderately loud neighbors by using earplugs. Additionally, you may instead use a fan or white noise machine to drown them out. [18


You don’t want to freeze at night or wake up in puddles of sweat. Find a comfortable temperature and purchase a duvet or blanket if necessary. Lastly, you could try adding essential oils to a diffuser or humidifier to introduce pleasant calming scents into the room that may ease you into sleep. [18

Tip 4: Have an optimized sleep schedule


Taking extended naps in the day could offer instant gratification and give you a massive boost in energy at that moment. However, they often backfire and can easily throw off your usual sleep schedule. Instead, take a power nap around 20 minutes long, preferably after lunch and in the early afternoon. [18

In addition to that, having consistent waking and bedtime hours are healthy habits to culture. If there’s a need to switch up your sleeping hours, don’t shock your body with an abrupt or sharp divergence from your regular sleep schedule. Instead, ease your body gradually into your new sleeping hours by making adjustments of one or two hours at most each night. [18


Tip 5: Seek professional help 


If you’ve tried every known method under the sky and still don’t see any hint of success, it’s best to seek professional help. 


Still, to err on the side of caution, there’s no need to wait until sleep deprivation has taken a massive toll on your health or mental wellbeing. Instead, reach out to a trusted healthcare professional the moment things get concerning or worrying. 

They may introduce you to non-pharmacological sleep therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Keeping a sleep diary or journal is also a great way to track your sleeping habits and help your doctor make more informed decisions in steering your treatment plan. [19


Conclusion 

Remember that Rome was not built in a day. Instilling good sleep hygiene practices takes time, and don’t beat yourself up if you fail to achieve success the first few times. 


There’s no doubt that getting high-quality sleep is a step in the right direction to keep your heart strong and healthy. Still, keep in mind that you don’t have to embark on this journey alone. Your healthcare providers will be able to offer you professional help and guidance on how to amplify your chances of success and achieve sustainable results in the long run. 


This article is a guide and should not replace the advice from your own healthcare professional. Consult your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.



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