Sleep and Heart Health

Sleep and heart health

Do you know that there is a strong connection between sleep and hearth health?

Recent studies show links between shortened sleep duration, defined as less than six hours of sleep, and increased risk of heart disease.

A 2011 European Heart Journal review of 15 medical studies involving almost 475,000 people found that short sleepers had a 48% increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease (CHD) in a seven to 25-year follow-up period (depending on the study) and a 15% greater risk of developing or dying from stroke during this same time. Interestingly, long sleepers — those who averaged nine or more hours a night — also showed a 38% increased risk of developing or dying from CHD and a 65% increased risk of stroke.

It’s not completely understood why less sleep is detrimental to heart health, but researchers agree that sleeping too little causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation. The same may be true for oversleeping.

Researchers said that the mechanisms behind shortened and prolonged sleep and heart disease aren’t completely understood. “Lack of sleep doesn’t necessarily cause heart disease,” says Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and director of the Sleep Disorders Program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “It only increases the risk factors for heart disease.”

When we are deprived of sleep in our early age, the effects become evident later in life when we become mature. In one study, adolescents who didn’t sleep well were at greater risk for developing cardiovascular problems.

“Heart problems can influence sleep, and sleep can influence heart problems,” says Susheel Patil, M.D. , clinical director of Johns Hopkins Sleep Medicine. “There’s quite a lot of overlap.”


Causes of having poor quality sleep

Sleep apnea- is one of the main reasons of not getting enough sleep. A person with sleep apnea usually wakes up tired and with a dry mouth. He or she feels sleepy or weak all day. Symptoms are snoring, occasionally stops breathing during sleep. Many people don’t realize they do, so it’s important to ask your bedmate. In adults, the most common cause of sleep apnea is excess weight and obesity, which is associated with soft tissue of the mouth and throat. During sleep, when throat and tongue muscles are more relaxed, this soft tissue can cause the airway to become blocked.

Heartburn- is a condition where some of the stomach contents are forced back up into the esophagus. It creates a burning pain in the lower chest. Having a quality sleep is not always possible for people with hearthburn. When lying down flat in bed, stomach acid tends to go back to esophagus which aggrevates the problem. Doctors recommend patients to sleep in incline position to keep the acid where it belongs. Sleeping flat in the left side tends to ease the pain while sleeping flat in the right seems to aggravate. The reason is not entirely clear. One probable reason is that right-side sleeping relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, between the stomach and the esophagus. Another reason is that that left-side sleeping keeps the junction between stomach and esophagus above the level of gastric acid.

The main treatment for chronic heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease is to reduce the production of stomach acid. It can be done by changing the lifestyle. Suggestions include:

a. Healthful diet with limited fat intake

b. Avoid eating before going to sleep and sit up straight while eating

c. Avoid lifting heavy objects

d. Monitoring and avoiding triggers such as spicy foods, milk, caffeine, lemon, etc.

e. Reduce weight and do exercises

f. Avoid smoking and drinking

g. Consult doctor regularly

Diabetes- is a common chronic disease marked by elevated blood sugar. People with diabetes normally have a hard time sleeping because of frequent urination. Excessive sugar in the blood forces the kidney to expel urine.

Heart failure- is a condition characterized by a gradual decline in the heart’s ability to “pump”, or circulate blood adequately. Heart failure can cause blood to build up in the lungs and other tissues. People with heart failure may experience the night feeling short of breath due to extra body fluid that accumulates around their lungs when they’re lying down. They can also be awakened just as they are falling asleep by a characteristic breathing pattern called Cheyne-Stokes respiration, a series of increasingly deep breaths followed by a brief cessation of breathing.

Thyroid disease. An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) can cause sleep problems. The disorder overstimulates the nervous system, making it hard to fall asleep, and it may cause night sweats, leading to nighttime arousals. Feeling cold and sleepy is a hallmark of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).

Breathing problems- Common chronic respiratory diseases like cough, colds, asthma, bronchitis and flu may disrupt sleep. It can be remedied by proper breathing medications .

Mental health disorders- General anxiety, phobias, panic attacks, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, dementia, epilepsy, and depression have difficulty in sleeping.

Neurological disorders- People suffering from neurological disorders like headaches, strokes, tumors, and parkinson’s disease also suffer from lack of sleep.

There are several ways on how to improve your sleep

a. Consult your doctor about the symptoms. If you are not sleeping well, there’s likely a reason and good treatment options as well.

b. Get the sleep problem and any underlying problem treated. For sleep apnea, the use of continuous positive airway pressure device is recommended. Someone with insomnia might need a sleep psychologist for cognitive behavioral therapy.

c. Shed away some fats by doing some exercises. This will help to trim down the air passage and avoid blockage.

d. Position yourself in the most comfortable way when sleeping. Usually laying on your sides can make you breath easier.

e. Avoid watching TV or using gadgets before sleeping.

f. Have a regular sleeping time. People with irregular sleep patterns have a higher risk for a cardiovascular event, including stroke, congestive heart failure and coronary heart disease. The time you fell asleep each night have a similar impact. Compared to people who went to bed within the same 30-minute window each night, those with a bedtime that varied by more than 90 minutes have double the risk of a cardiovascular event.


You can make an analogy between sleep and physical activity, where you have people who are absolutely inactive during the week and then they hammer out two hours of physical activity in one day and think they’ll be fine. That’s not the right thing, and it’s the same with sleep. “For optimal health, there has to be regularity to these behaviors, and that includes sleep.”


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