How Sleep Impacts Heart Health
If you suffer from any form of sleep disorder, disturbance, or deprivation, you’ll know that a lack of rest can have a negative impact on your wider health. There are many different systems and parts of our bodies and lives which cannot function to their full potential without regular deep sleep.
So it’s understandable for someone with poor sleep health to wonder about the relationship between heart health and sleep. After all, heart and heart-related circulatory diseases cause a quarter of all deaths in the UK 1.
But how do sleep and heart health correlate? Well before we go into detail,we can summarise the conclusion early and tell you that the current medical thinking seems pretty synchronised. Sleep can play a role in overall heart health, but it’s not central to it.
So if you’re struggling with your sleep at the moment and worried about your heart, try not to worry. But do speak to a healthcare professional about your concerns regarding sleep and heart diseases just to be on the safe side.
What is a ‘healthy’ amount of nightly sleep?
It can be tempting to assume that a drop-off in sleep instantly puts you in some kind of unhealthy or ‘at risk’ category. The truth is, how long we sleep on average changes as we age. Older people often tend to sleep less2. So if you’re just getting an hour’s rest less than a decade ago, it’s nothing to worry about.
How much we ‘need’ to sleep can vary from person to person and is determined by a number of factors including age, genetics and lifestyle.
The general guidance is that a healthy amount of sleep is between seven and nine hours per night3. However, some people may need more in order to operate at their best, while some folk are capable of being fresh after just five or six hours’ slumber4.
The link between sleep and overall health
According to estimates, a third of adults don’t get enough sleep each night 5. This can lead to a whole range of health issues.
Insufficient sleep can lead to problems other than just feeling exhausted the next day. When you’re sleep deprived, you tend to make worse decisions, be less creative, more likely to make mistakes and even be involved in car accidents. This is because poor sleep quality has been linked to impaired cognitive function. Your brain needs sleep 15.
A lack of nocturnal rest might also affect your mood, impede your libido, contribute to weight gain, decrease your productivity and have a detrimental effect on your immune system16.
Sleep and heart health – Which conditions are linked?
If your sleep condition is relatively new or not too serious, it’s extremely likely that your heart’s health is unlikely to be too affected by what’s happening.
However, if your sleep condition is long-standing and quite severe, there may be a chance that it is contributing towards poorer heart health6. If you have a long history of sleep disorders – or have recently developed a severe one – do consult your GP for advice.
The kinds of sleep conditions which have been linked with heart issues include:
Insomnia describes persistent and debilitating problems with getting to sleep, remaining asleep, or both. Heart disease and high blood pressure have been linked with long-term insomnia7. Insufficient sleep over time can also result in bad habits that are bad for your heart in the longer term, such as higher stress levels, less drive to exercise and unhealthy eating choices.
When your airways repeatedly become obstructed while you sleep, it results in brief pauses in breathing. This is known as sleep apnea. The amount of oxygen your body receives while you sleep is affected by sleep apnea, which can increase your chance of
developing a number of heart-based illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes8.
A persistent neurological sleep disorder that impairs your ability to wake up and fall asleep, narcolepsy is characterised by extreme daytime sleepiness and unexpected and unavoidable sleep attacks. According to certain research, those with severe narcolepsy
have a slightly higher chance of acquiring heart conditions like arrhythmias, hypertension and cardiovascular disease9.
How sleep and heart disease may be linked
Again, it’s worth pointing out that poor sleeping habits are not ‘strongly linked’ with developing heart disease, so if you suffer from bouts of insomnia, it’s not a reason to unduly panic. But some research has indicated that certain heart issues can be exacerbated by ongoing poor sleep.
According to studies10, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and increased cholesterol are all linked to insufficient or poor quality sleep. Additionally, regular short sleep patterns can raise the risk of cardiovascular problems11.
The prevalence of heart arrhythmias, plaque buildup, heart failure, and coronary artery disease may also be slightly higher in those with sleeping difficulties than in the general population12.
The heart rate normally decreases throughout NREM sleep stages and then increases as you get ready to wake up13. A poor night’s sleep, particularly when populated by sudden awakenings can cause a sudden increase in heart rate.
According to research, those who have trouble falling asleep are more prone to
experience an irregular heartbeat<sup14. These factors suggest that sleep deprivation and heart palpitations may be related.
If you’re concerned about your bedtime heart health, don’t ignore it or become too
alarmed. Seek medical advice and act on the specialist’s advice.
For more information on good sleep habits and sleep hygiene, read the Nytol blog today.
1, Facts and figures – British Heart Foundation
2, The truth about whether you need less sleep as you get older – BBC Future
3, How Much Sleep Do I Need? – WebMD
4, Six hours’ sleep a night is enough say scientists – The Independent
5, 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep – CDC
6, Do Your Heart a Favour – Get More Sleep – Hopkins Medicine
7, The association between insomnia and cardiovascular diseases – Nature and Science of Sleep,Kai Spiegelhalder, et al
8, Sleep Apnea – Mayo Clinic
9, Cardiovascular disorders in narcolepsy: Review of associations and determinants – Sleep
Medicine Reviews, Poul Jørgen Jennum, et al
10, The Association Between Insomnia and Atherosclerosis: A Brief Report – Nature and Science of Sleep, Xian-Li Pan, et al
11, Sleep Duration Linked to Cardiovascular Disease – Circulation journal, Bridget M. Kuehn
12, Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Cardiovascular Disease: Role of the Metabolic Syndrome and Its Components – Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Girardin Jean-Louis, et al
13, Effects of sleep on the cardiovascular and thermoregulatory systems: a possible role for
hypocretins – Journal of Applied Physiology, H. Schwimmer, et al
14, Can’t sleep? You may be at risk for atrial fibrillation – Harvard Medical School
15, Sleep for Cognitive Enhancement – Frontiers
16, Lack of Sleep: Can it make you sick? – Mayo Clinic