Why Sleep Is Essential for Heart Health

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A young woman sleeping in bed

Nearly one-third of Americans report that they don’t get enough sleep. In June 2022, the American Heart Association (AHA) added sleep to its checklist for cardiovascular health. It joins a list that includes: diet, activity level, nicotine exposure, weight, cholesterol level, blood pressure and blood sugar.

“There has been an increasing awareness of the effect of sleep on a person’s overall health and in particular on cardiovascular health. Sleep problems, which also includes sleep apnea, are becoming an epidemic, similar to obesity and diabetes,” says University Hospitals cardiologist Ian Neeland, MD.

Poor Sleep and Heart Health

“Poor sleep habits and issues like insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome all interfere with good quality sleep,” says University Hospitals pulmonologist and sleep specialist Kingman Strohl, MD. “If you have any of these problems, you should talk with a doctor or cardiologist.”

Poor quality sleep causes unhealthy changes in your energy, hormones and metabolism. It increases stress hormones, which can lead to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. Even worse, when sleep apnea occurs with a metabolic dysfunction, such as diabetes, it triples the risk for heart attack and stroke.

When you sleep matters too – staying up late and getting up late can lead to changes in your circadian rhythm and disrupt hormone balance. Staying up late can also lead to late-night binge eating, weight gain and obesity. All of these factors increase the risk for heart disease.

Good Sleep and Heart Health

The relationship between sleep and heart health goes both ways. While poor sleep is bad for heart health, heart disease can also cause impaired sleep. With each affecting the other, the cycle will continue to build and worsen. The good news is that high quality sleep can improve heart health and improved heart health can make it easier to get a good night’s sleep.

Good sleep fuels your metabolism, hormone balance and energy level in multiple ways. Improved energy supports an active lifestyle. Balanced hormones support your metabolism, healthy eating habits, mood and clear thinking, and reduce insulin resistance and diabetes risk. All of these factors support heart health.

How to Improve Sleep

The AHA recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night to maintain optimal cardiovascular health. Children ages 5 and under should get 10-16 hours of sleep (including naps), while children ages 6 to 12 require 9-12 hours. Teenagers need 8 -10 hours each night.

To get better quality sleep, it’s important to practice good sleep hygiene:

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Keep the room as dark as possible.
  • Turn off the TV and leave devices in another room.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol late in the day, and don’t eat late at night.
  • Use CPAP devices, night guards or other recommendations from your physician.

“Take a sleep inventory,” says Dr. Strohl. “Think about when and how you sleep. Are there interruptions that can be reduced? Is the room dark? Are you snoring? Do you get enough exercise during the day? Ask yourself, ‘Am I sleeping well?’ If the answer is yes, then you’re probably in pretty good health. If the answer is no, try to find out why. It’s critical to truly value sleep compared to other things in life.”

“Don’t overlook sleep. It’s just as important as your blood pressure or cholesterol levels, even though people don’t think of it the same way as other cardiovascular risk factors,” says Dr. Neeland.

Related Links

University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute is dedicated to providing the highest quality care for all patients. Learn more.

University Hospitals offers a full range of treatment options to help improve your sleep and enhance your quality of life. Learn more.

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