Her Heart Sank Onto the Bed: Sleep and Heart Health

“You snooze, you lose!” When it comes to your heart—and your health in general—the phrase should be “You snooze small, you lose it all”. I know, I know, it’s not as catchy and much more cumbersome to yell in someone’s face when you grab the last cookie, but it is true: if you snooze small, you can lose it all.

There is a strong correlation between getting enough sleep and heart health. Studies show that sleeping less than six hours per night can cause high blood pressure, increased calcium deposits in the arteries, high blood glucose levels, increased C-reactive protein (an indicator of stress and/or inflammation), crankiness, and caffeine IVs, some of which can lead to heart disease. This correlation exists no matter what age you are; a teenager who doesn’t sleep enough will develop the same problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type two diabetes that we “experienced” people do. On the other hand, sleeping 7-8 hours per night prevents the risk for heart disease just as much as not smoking, eating right, and exercising. (Keep in mind that we’re talking about sleep habits here, not a short night every once in a while.)

heart sleep 1Most things in life require maintenance and HeartDOT’s system of oxygenated transportation is no different. When does HeartDOT plow and salt the roads after it snows? At night. When does HeartDOT do construction on busy highways? At night. When are HeartDOT’s rest stops cleaned and restocked? At night.

Your body has stuff it needs to do while you sleep; important stuff like cleaning and repairing itself. The lining of the blood vessels and heart is especially important, but regenerating that lining takes time and it happens best when the heart is relaxed during sleep.

Lack of sleep also interrupts biological processes like glucose metabolism and blood pressure. For example, blood pressure works on a feedback loop: sensors in your biggest arteries measure how much blood is flowing and how hard it’s pressing on the walls of the artery and tell the heart to pump harder or slow down. When your heartrate slows at night, this feedback loop resets itself with a baseline of what “normal” should be. If you don’t sleep long enough, the feedback loop measurements don’t drop as low and it resets itself at a “normal” that is higher than it should be. Over time that keeps your blood pressure higher all day. High blood pressure puts a strain on your heart like running an engine at full throttle all the time.

heart sleep 2It’s not just your heart that suffers from little or poor sleep. Short sleepers are more likely to be obese and suffer from type two diabetes as well. Those who are tired are less likely to exercise and less likely to make good food choices. (Duh! We’ve all been there; we don’t need science to tell us that.) When you are sleep deprived, you even produce more ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry.

What can you do to get more sleep? Give yourself a bedtime and stick to it. Sometimes you have to BYOM –Be Your Own Mom. 30-60 minutes before bedtime, start winding down by reading the dictionary, taking a bath, journaling, watching paint dry, and so forth. 10-20 minutes before bed, turn off your electronics. I repeat: TURN OFF the TV, the tablet, the phone, the computer. I know, I know, there are people out there who can’t fall asleep without the TV on, but they are the exception and I believe they can be retrained. I find that when I turn off my electronics, I go from feeling “awake” to exhausted in 0.05 seconds. It doesn’t matter how early or late it is. The same thing happens with my kids: they’re wide awake to watch a TV show before bed, but as soon as I turn off the brain-sucker, they’re so tired they can’t make it up the stairs without whining. (They take after their mother.)

If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, exercise has been shown to be nearly as effective as sleeping pills (and much, much safer). Over time, exercise helps lessen insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea symptoms. We’re talking about exercise any time of day, by the way, so the same exercise that strengthens your heart helps you sleep which strengthens your heart. It’s like the chicken and the egg thing if the chicken crosses the road and the egg sleeps and they share a heart.

Tired of hearing about how important sleep is? Good: go to bed.

 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

 

References:

Web MD http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/how-sleep-affects-your-heart#1

Sleep Foundation https://sleepfoundation.org/excessivesleepiness/content/how-sleep-deprivation-affects-your-heart

Consequences of Sleep Deprivation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3403737/

Exercise and Sleep http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/29/health/exercise-sleep-tips/index.html

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