We all know that a healthy heart is vital for our wellbeing. But did you know that sleep and the health of your heart are closely connected?
While good sleep is important for energy levels, it also plays a vital role in the health of your heart.
The heart is a fist-sized organ in our circulatory system and has three main roles:
- moves blood throughout our body
- controls the rhythm and speed of your heart rate
- maintains blood pressure.
If something goes wrong with our heart, we are at risk of dying. There are many ways to look after our heart including eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking and having regular heart health checks.
However, many people are unaware that ensuring good sleep is another important way to look after your heart.
Sleep and your heart
Experts recommend that we get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, many people don’t get that much. While it’s not a cause for concern for a couple of nights, a long-term lack of sleep can have serious repercussions for your heart.
Research has shown that adults who don’t get at least 7 hours of sleep each night are more likely to experience health problems that raise the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. These include:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- type 2 diabetes
Sleep is essential for our body to rest and recover. During the non-rapid eye movement sleep stages, our heart rate slows, blood pressure drops and breathing stabilises. These all reduce stress on our heart and allow it to recover from the exertion and strain that occur during our waking hours.
Lack of sleep means that our heart doesn’t get adequate time to recover.
Sleep problems that impact your heart
Two main sleep problems can have a serious impact on your heart.
Sleep apnoea — This is when your airway is repeatedly blocked during sleep, causing you to stop breathing for a short time. This condition affects how much oxygen your body gets while sleeping and increases the risk for blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
Insomnia — This is when you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both. Insomnia has been linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. Lack of sleep can also increase the risk of other conditions that can impact your heart, including stress, and fatigue that prevents you from exercising, and increases the likelihood of unhealthy food choices.
Visit your doctor
Experts recommend that all adults aged over 40, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders over 35 should have a heart health check. This will enable you to better understand any risk factors you have for heart problems, and allow you to make lifestyle changes to reduce these. You should also visit your doctor if:
- there is a family history of heart disease
- you have problems sleeping
- you suspect you have a sleeping disorder
- you snore a lot or your partner has noticed you stop breathing in your sleep
- you’re concerned about your heart health.
Get a good night’s sleep
You should also focus on getting a good night’s sleep by following these suggestions:
- Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends
- Get enough natural light, especially earlier in the day.
- Get enough physical activity during the day, although try not to exercise within a few hours of bedtime.
- Avoid artificial light, especially within a few hours of bedtime. Use a blue light filter on your computer or smartphone, and avoid electronic devices before bed.
- Don’t eat or drink within a few hours of bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol and foods high in fat or sugar.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
- Ensure you have a comfortable, supportive mattress to sleep on.
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