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The Importance of Sleep for Heart Health

Woman sleeps soundly with eye mask on to ensure she gets adequate rest for her heart health per recommendations form Huntington Heart Center

When we start a health improvement program, whether diet or exercise or both, we typically only look at one part of the problem – calories in versus calories out. But doing so only takes part of the problem into account. More than just those calories, some factors can affect your heart health directly.

Foremost is sleep. It’s an underappreciated tool for not only our heart health but for our general health as well. Yes, Americans are dramatically sleep-deprived, and the result can be significant. For example, when we spring forward for daylight savings time and we have one hour less of sleep, heart attacks increase by 24% on that day. When we fall back and have that extra hour of sleep, heart attacks drop by 24%. It may seem dramatic, but our hearts and bodies are finely tuned to sleep patterns.

Does “I’ll Sleep When I Die” Make Sense?

Workaholics and those who think that sleep is a waste of time often use this quote to justify five, four, or even three hours of sleep a night. But while they may save a few hours here and there, it’s hard to recognize how much time they waste by not being sharp throughout the day. This doesn’t even consider that they may be shaving years off their lives.

So How Do I Get Better Sleep?

There are a few obvious and immediate sleep improvements we can make. First, prepare yourself properly for the night. This means eliminating phones and other electronics at least an hour, preferably two hours before bed. Separate your bedroom from all work and entertainment devices. Not only does the blue light emitted by these devices mess with your circadian rhythm, but if something roils your emotions just before bed, there’s a good chance your sleep will be interrupted.

Second, time your food and drink. It’s best not to eat or drink within a few hours of going to bed. This can also be the basis for intermittent fasting, which can benefit your heart and overall health. Of course, do not consume too much sugar or caffeine close to bedtime, as it can easily keep you awake.

Treat stress or mood disorders at their source. If you feel anxiety or depression, see a specialist. If you are overwhelmed by the day and the prospect of what’s to come tomorrow, speaking to a therapist or even your primary care physician for relaxation techniques can help tremendously.

Check your meds. Speak to your doctor about your problems sleeping, and you may find a reason is in the pills you take every day. While speaking to your doctor, this is a great time to diagnose and treat any other conditions that may be causing poor sleep, including sleep apnea, excess weight, a deviated septum, or other problems.

Bottom Line

One of the best medicines we have at our fingertips is simple, free, and entirely within our control. However, we don’t use this tool the way we should is a big problem. For the sake of your heart and general health, redouble your efforts to go to sleep at a reasonable time in a dark, cool room with no distractions. Try to get those eight or nine hours of sleep, which could be the basis for your health for decades to come.

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