How Insomnia May Hurt Your Heart
Not sleeping well or consistently enough can affect your heart in these ways.
Having trouble falling or staying asleep? If so, you're among the millions of people who experience insomnia. This common sleep disorder may only happen occasionally or it may be chronic. The lack of quality sleep it allows you to get not only makes you feel lousy and zaps energy levels, but it can be bad for your heart.
Here are some reasons why poor sleep affects your heart:
- Blood Pressure – When you sleep, your blood pressure goes down. If you don't get enough sleep, your blood pressure stays elevated for longer periods of time. Over time, this may lead to high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure is no joke—it's one of the leading risk factors for heart attack and stroke.
- Unhealthy Habits – In addition to affecting blood pressure, a lack of sleep may also lead to higher levels of stress. Chronic stress contributes to cardiovascular disease. Not sleeping well may also cause you to turn to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as being more sedentary and making unhealthy food choices. These habits may negatively affect your heart health.
- Sleep Consistency – Not getting enough sleep is not the only sleep issue that affects your heart. One study found that people who slept varying amounts of time each night and went to bed and woke up at different times throughout the week were more likely to have hardened arteries than people with more regular sleep patterns. Another study found that people with erratic sleep schedules were nearly twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease compared to people with more regular sleep schedules.
The link between sleep and heart health is strong enough that the American Heart Association has included sleep duration as an important factor necessary for maintaining cardiovascular health. And don't think that if you haven't been sleeping enough, you can simply make it up over the weekend or when you're on vacation. It doesn't appear to work like that. It's important to not only get enough sleep, but to do so on a consistent basis, night after night.
Need help sleeping better? Here are tips that may help:
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule – Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Get some sun – Go outside, especially early in the day, to tell your body it's time to wake up.
- Do some exercise – Physical activity helps improve sleep, but don't do it too close to bedtime.
- Don't eat too late – Especially avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar and high fat foods.
- Avoid blue light – Don't use your phone, iPad or computer before going to bed.
- Create a comfortable sleeping environment – Keep your space cool, dark and quiet.
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Date Last Reviewed: March 20, 2023
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD