The Important Link Between Sleep Loss and Heart Disease

The Important Link Between Sleep Loss and Heart Disease

At least one-third of adults don’t get the sleep they need to stay energized and healthy. Though they’re all familiar with sleep-loss symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating, most don’t realize that too little sleep increases their risk for heart disease.

If you don’t get enough sleep and you’re worried about its long-term effect on your heart, it’s time to consider heart-health screening at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute. Our physicians, Dr. Laura Fernandes and Dr. Emmanuel Achu, can identify your risk for heart disease and recommend lifestyle steps you can take to improve your sleep and prevent heart disease.

Heart diseases caused by sleep loss

How much of an impact does sleep loss have on your health? A 2019 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that the risk of developing atherosclerosis (a cholesterol buildup in your arteries) increases by 27% if you consistently get less than six hours of sleep.

Lack of sleep isn’t the only problem affecting your heart. The quality of sleep has an even bigger impact. Poor sleep quality raises your risk of atherosclerosis by 34%.

If you don’t get the recommended 7-8 hours of restorative sleep each night, you have a significantly higher risk of developing heart problems such as:

Lack of sleep also increases bodywide inflammation, which is directly associated with heart disease. And your risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes increases when you don’t get enough sleep. Both conditions contribute to heart disease.

Lack of sleep stresses your heart

Sleep is essential for your brain and body to reenergize and recuperate. While you sleep, your brain clears away wastes, imprints permanent memories, and builds nerve connections. Your body also repairs muscles and restores your immune system. And your heart gets its only chance to rest.

Your brain goes through four sleep stages, one rapid eye movement (REM) stage and three non-REM stages. During non-REM sleep, your heart rate slows down, blood vessels relax, and your blood pressure drops by about 10-20%. This reduces the stress on your heart and gives it the rest it needs to stay healthy. 

Sleep quality affects your heart

You can sleep eight hours every night and still not get the health benefits if your sleep isn’t restful. Restful sleep refers to how well you sleep (the quality of your sleep).

Getting restful sleep depends on making it through all the sleep stages. If your sleep is interrupted, the sleep stage stops, and your heart, body, and brain don’t get the restorative benefits that occur during that stage.

If you have insomnia or wake during the night, you have poor sleep quality. People with sleep apnea also fail to get a restful sleep, but they’re not aware of the problem.

When you have sleep apnea, you stop breathing for a short time while you sleep. This doesn’t happen once or twice during the night. Instead, people with sleep apnea temporarily stop breathing 5-30 times or more each hour.

Every time your breathing stops, your brain rouses you just enough to breathe again. You don’t wake up (so you’re not aware of the problem), but your sleep is disrupted, you don’t make it through all the sleep stages, and your cardiovascular system doesn’t rest.

Sleep apnea does more than prevent your heart from resting: It adds to the stress on your heart. When you stop breathing, your blood vessels tighten, the pressure in your chest increases, and your heart works harder to circulate blood. You can imagine the total impact on your cardiovascular system when this happens 5-30+ times every hour.

If you don’t get enough sleep or you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, you can protect your heart health with a risk assessment, sleep study, and preventive health care at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute. Call the office or book an appointment online today.

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