Sleep is critical to health and wellbeing. It is a basic and fundamental human requirement and is vitally important for good physical, mental and emotional health as well as crucial for memory, learning and growth. With one third of us now sleeping less than six hours a night, you need to do your heart a favour and re-evaluate your sleep!
HOW DOES LACK OF SLEEP AFFECT THE HEART?
We need good quality sleep for a healthy heart.
Research has found that those who frequently get fewer than six hours a night are at significantly increased risk of stroke and heart disease, with evidence that not sleeping enough may ramp up the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, releasing hormones that speed up heart rate and raise blood pressure.
When we are sleep deprived the heart rate remains elevated, rather than fluctuating normally (comes across as ‘heightened stress’), insulin resistance is increased and can increase CRP (C-Reactive Protein) which is released with stress and inflammation.
HOW SLEEP DISORDERS AFFECT HEART HEALTH?
Sleep apnoea: People with sleep apnoea stop breathing regularly during sleep, and most sufferers are unaware of this. Oxygen levels drop, carbon dioxide levels increase, and your heart must work hard to jolt the person to start breathing again. If untreated it can cause, or exacerbate, physical, mental and emotional problems such as heart attacks and other cardiovascular disorders, strokes, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, obesity etc.
Insomnia: Insomnia affects getting to sleep, staying asleep or both. At some point we all experience insomnia but it doesn’t last and then sleep returns to normal. Insomnia is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to unhealthy habits and feelings of anxiety which has a knock-on effect on stress levels, the ability to eat well and be motivated to exercise.
HOW TO HAVE BETTER HEART HEALTH
There are lots of steps you can take to help your ticker including taking more exercise, changing your diet etc but improving your sleep should be top of the list.
If you’re struggling with sleep try the following sleep hygiene tips
- Keep regular hours. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time, all the time, will programme your body to sleep better. Choose a time when you are most likely to feel sleepy. The next time you’re tempted to skimp on sleep, stop and remember how important a good night’s sleep is for the heart.
- Create a restful sleeping environment. Your bedroom should be kept for rest and sleep and it should be neither too hot, nor too cold; and as quiet and dark as possible.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable. The surface we sleep on plays a key factor in getting a good night’s kip. It’s difficult to get deep, restful sleep on an old, uncomfortable bed. A bed with the correct support, comfort and space will ensure you wake less, move about less, are less disturbed by your partner and are less likely to wake up feeling tired or aching.
- Take more exercise. Regular, moderate exercise such as swimming or walking can help relieve the day’s stresses and strains. But not too close too bedtime or it may keep you awake!
- Cut down on stimulants such as caffeine in tea or coffee – especially in the evening. Caffeine is a stimulant and its effect on sleep is well known – it interferes with falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Try and avoid it 4-5 hours before bedtime; have a hot milky drink or a herbal tea instead.
- Ditch the booze! While alcohol initially relaxes you and helps you to nod off, it decreases the amount of time you spend in REM sleep (deep, restorative sleep). Plus you will find you wake in the night dehydrated and needing the loo.
- Don’t over-indulge. Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night, just before bedtime, can play havoc with sleep patterns. Alcohol may help you fall asleep initially but will interrupt your sleep later on in the night.
- Don’t smoke. Yes, it’s bad for sleep, too: smokers take longer to fall asleep, wake more often and often experience more sleep disruption.
- Try to relax before going to bed. Have a warm bath, listen to some quiet music, do some yoga – all help to relax both the mind and body. Your doctor may be able to recommend a helpful relaxation tape, too.
- Turn off gadgets before bed! Blue light inhibits the night-time secretion of melatonin and impacts on sleep latency so avoid screen time at least an hour before bed.
- Deal with worries or a heavy workload. If the minute your head hits the pillow you start thinking about your ‘to do’ list or worrying about something, write it down. It clears the mind making it easier to concentrate on getting a good night’s sleep.
- Keep a sleep diary. Why not keep a sleep diary? If you find dropping off hard, it may be interesting to see what you’ve been doing, what you’ve eaten and where you’ve slept on the days you sleep and don’t sleep well. It could help in finding the answers to some of your questions.