How Sleep (or Lack Thereof) Impacts Your Heart Health

Heart disease ranks as the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. While you’re probably familiar with the role of diet and exercise in reducing your risk of this condition, you may not realize that you could be undermining the benefits of a healthy lifestyle by getting insufficient sleep. 

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults under age 65 get between seven and nine hours of sleep, with seven to eight hours advised for adults over age 65. Getting adequate sleep benefits your entire body by allowing it to recharge your nervous, immune, skeletal, and muscular systems. 

Research indicates that getting adequate, uninterrupted sleep also plays a pivotal role in protecting your heart health. Scientists have observed that people with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia have a shorter life expectancy than people who get adequate sleep. 

If you’re like one in three American adults who don’t get the recommended amount of sleep, it’s important to determine ways to modify your behavior. The primary care providers at Macomb Medical Clinic in Sterling Heights, Michigan, offer expert preventive medical care. In addition to determining your risk for heart disease, your physician recommends behavior modification to improve the amount and quality of your sleep. If your sleep problems are caused by a disorder such as sleep apnea, appropriate treatment is advised.

The value of non-REM sleep

When you sleep, your body cycles through non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During non-REM cycles, your blood pressure and heart rate drop and your breathing stabilizes. These physical changes reduce stress on your heart and allow it to recuperate and regenerate from the stress experienced during the previous day. 

Your heart works harder and is more stressed during REM sleep. When you don’t get adequate sleep, you can offset the balance of non-REM sleep and REM sleep cycles each night.

Insomnia and insufficient sleep duration, in which your body doesn’t experience adequate non-REM sleep, can lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and related mortality. 

Effect on high blood pressure

High blood pressure is one of the most prevalent causes of heart disease. Your body experiences a 10-20% reduction in blood pressure during a normal sleep cycle. 

By reducing your total sleep or experiencing interrupted sleep you may be depriving your body of this period of reduced blood pressure and forcing your body to work at an elevated level of blood pressure for a longer than normal time. 

Research indicates that having elevated nighttime blood pressure may be a more important indicator of heart problems than having high blood pressure during daytime hours. 

Research has also demonstrated that actions such as working the night shift and having interrupted sleep can increase a person’s heart rate when they’re awake. Inadequate sleep can also lead to higher levels of the hormone norepinephrine, which can narrow blood vessels and raise your blood pressure. 

Risk of heart attack

Awakening abruptly, such as the sleep disturbances that occur with sleep apnea, is associated with an increase in pulse rate and high blood pressure, both of which make you more susceptible to chest pain and heart attacks.

Having sleep apnea can cause sleep disturbances of up to 30 times or more per hour. The persistent awakening prevents you from getting adequate sleep and increases the possibility of having a heart attack.

One observational study identified a 20% higher risk of heart attack for people who slept for less than six to nine hours per night versus those who slept for this amount of time.

Impact on coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease occurs when the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart become narrow. It develops as the result of plaque buildup in the arteries, called atherosclerosis, leading to your heart. The result limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart. 

Research indicates that sleep disruption and sleep deficiency leads to chronic inflammation, which may trigger diseases like coronary artery disease, which have an inflammatory component. A study of sleep-deprived mice indicates that sleep disruption activates a molecule that triggers inflammation. Inadequate sleep may also reduce production of the hormone hypocretin, which helps prevent inflammation. 

Find out more about the ways your sleep patterns may be threatening your heart health. Call our office for a medical consultation today.

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