Sleep and Heart HealthFeb 23, 2023 09:31PM ● By Bethany Good
Unable to sleep, I roll over, look at my phone, and discover that it is 3:30 am. Why am I up this early again? Typically, I’m an early bird, waking up before my alarm goes off at 6:00 AM. But 3:30 is too early even for me. As I scroll through my phone, articles about “How to get a good night's sleep” seemed to taunt me from their digital graveyard. Are you serious, Google? I thought. I put my phone away and closed my eyes. The minutes ticked by, and finally, I gave up on sleep altogether. The rest of the day was a bit foggy. As a busy mom and small business owner, I rarely have enough time for me to take a bath, let alone the luxury of setting aside time for a nap.
Many of us understand what it feels like to go through our days without enough rest. We know that getting good sleep is essential to our health, but sometimes getting enough sleep feels as elusive as finding the time to relaxing bath. To learn more about how lack of sleep affects our daily lives, I spoke to Dr. Sara Benjamin, a board-certified neurologist, about sleep deprivation's effects on our health. Dr. Benjamin was able to explain the link between sleep and heart health, as well as give some tips on how to get a better night’s rest.
Lack of Sleep Can Lead to Health Problems
Sleep isn’t just crucial for our energy levels—it’s also critical for overall health and well-being. “Not getting enough sleep is a general stress on the body,” Dr. Benjamin explains. “Stress hormones can strain your heart and make it harder to control your blood pressure and blood sugars.” Some sleep disorders may lead to cardiovascular problems, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your breathing is interrupted during sleep. When we sleep, the body is completely relaxed, even the muscles that help you breathe. Relaxed muscles combined with a narrowed airway can interfere with our breathing. “In obstructive sleep apnea, there is an airway collapse, so you’re not getting enough oxygen in your blood. Your body needs to maintain that oxygen level, so sometimes it clamps down on the blood vessels, making it harder to control blood pressure,” explains Dr. Benjamin.
Over time untreated sleep apnea can lead to complications such as cardiovascular problems like heart failure, stroke, or abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia).
Dr. Benjamin’s Advice for Getting a Good Night’s Rest
Dr. Benjamin recommends putting yourself on a consistent schedule. “A set wake-up time is more important than a set bedtime,” she advises. “Don’t go to bed if you’re not sleepy, and don’t stay in bed if you’re not sleeping.”
Other tips for improving sleep:
Reduce your caffeine intake
Reduce your blue light exposure by setting aside tablets, phones, and other devices before bedtime
Get more natural light outside during the day. “Less bright light in the evening and more bright light in the morning.”
Wind down before bedtime by turning off bright overhead lights and using softer indirect lights
Exercise until you’re hot, but give yourself enough time to cool down before bed.
Try relaxing yoga movements and meditation
When to Seek Care From a Sleep Specialist
Dr. Benjamin recommends trying all of the techniques to see improvement in your sleep. However, if you’ve tried everything, or you’re getting the seven or eight recommended hours of sleep every night but not feeling rested during the day, it may be time to seek help.