Woman checking heart rate on smart watch
  • The Sound Sleeper

Sleep well for a healthy heart

While exercise and diet are important to heart health, don’t forget another vital component — sleep.

Hypertension and coronary artery disease
Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease. While you may not notice any symptoms, hypertension makes your heart and blood vessels work harder until years of wear and tear cause a serious event such as a heart attack or stroke.

While you’re in the deep sleep stage of your slumber, your heart rate and breathing slow to their lowest levels of the night and blood pressure falls. This phase of sleep is necessary for feeling refreshed the next day and helps keep your blood pressure under control on a day-to-day basis. A full night’s sleep is important to allow adequate time in this part of the sleep cycle.

Coronary artery disease (CAD), a buildup of plaque that narrows the arteries to the heart, can also be worsened by poor sleep. Sleeping too little (less than six hours) or too much (more than nine hours) has been shown to increase CAD risk.

Back to exercise and diet
Looking to spend more time at the gym or rework your diet? Sleep can help with both!

Good sleep supports your exercise plan in two ways: it gives you the energy and motivation you need to be physically active, and it repairs tissue and muscle after this exertion.

Two appetite-regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin, stabilize when you get the proper amount of sleep. Ghrelin stimulates your appetite while leptin decreases it, so when they’re out of balance, you’re increasingly hungry and tend to crave fatty foods, especially at night — a recipe for a diet disaster.

Two studies, two chances to impact your heart health
New research released in 2021 found that study participants who slept 6 to 7 hours a night had a lower chance of dying from a heart attack or stroke compared with those who got less sleep.

More than 14,000 people participated in the study over a 7.5 year period and had an average age of 46. Most had no prior history of heart disease, heart failure or stroke. This was the first study to explore the association between cardiovascular risk and sleep duration. Its results add to the existing evidence that sleep — along with diet, smoking and exercise — can affect your cardiovascular health.

Another study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, looked at heart failure risk and sleep apnea in 4.9 million adults over 13 years. It found that people with sleep apnea developed more heart failure than the general public and that positive airway pressure (PAP) treatment offered protection for those patients, especially in the age 60+ group. Sleep apnea patients over age 60 who didn’t use a PAP device had a 38 percent higher risk of heart failure compared to those on PAP therapy.

While we can’t change certain risk factors for heart disease like age and genetics, we can adjust our sleep habits and give ourselves the best chance of staying healthy.
Sources: Harvard Medical School; Healthline; Mayo Clinic; American College of Cardiology (2021) Too Much, Too Little Sleep Linked to Elevated Heart Risks in People Free from Disease: Sleep Should Be Assessed along with Other Factors That Increase Heart Disease, ScienceDaily; American Heart Association (2018) CPAP Machines for Sleep Apnea Could Decrease Heart Failure Risk.

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