When your to-do list is full of items that just can’t wait until tomorrow, it seems like a good night’s sleep is always the first thing to go. After all, who has eight hours to dedicate to sleep when there are a million other things going on?But putting sleep at the bottom of your list could lead to more than just an extra cup of coffee or a drowsy morning. It can also lead to health risks later in life, including heart disease.
“Lack of sleep doesn’t directly cause heart disease, but it does increase your risk factors,” explains Donald Ferrari, DO, Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist at Main Line Health Center at Exton Square.
As sleepless nights add up, so does the harm to your heart. Chronic sleep deprivation contributes to inflammation, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. It can also promote weight gain and diabetes, both of which can contribute to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. The effects may start as early as your teen years. By adulthood, the danger is significant, according to a 10-year study in the journal Sleep. People who regularly sleep less than six hours per night have a 23 percent increased risk for heart disease than those who sleep more.
And if the sleep they are getting is poor quality, their risk is a whopping 80 percent greater.
So what can you do to make sure you’re getting enough sleep? Upgrade your bedroom. If you’re glued to your screen or can’t picture going to bed without scrolling through your tablet first, then set a rule for no screen time for a half hour before bed. Opt for a soothing playlist or sound machine instead of falling asleep with the TV on. Try and keep your room quiet, cool, and dark, and reserve it for sleeping. Eating meals or doing work in the same space you use for sleep can make it difficult to switch off your brain when it’s time for bed. In addition to making sure you’re getting enough sleep, make sure it’s quality sleep.
“Sleep is good for your heart, but some sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, can put your heart at risk, too,” says Dr. Ferrari. “In order to maximize the heart health benefits of sleep, you have to be sleeping soundly.”
Talk to your doctor if you’re struggling with sleep apnea or still have trouble sleeping. They may be able to recommend a sleep specialist who can help you identify treatment options.
- See related articles: 5 Long-Term Side Effects of Skipping Sleep