Last week, the American Heart Association (AHA) published an update to its list of heart health essentials, adding sleep to the list. Sleep is sometimes thought of as a luxury, but it is critical to maintaining good health, including good heart and cardiovascular health. Poor sleep can start affecting your heart health at a young age, making sleep important throughout your life.
How much sleep is recommended?
The American Heart Association recommends the following:
· Adults should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night
· Teenagers should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night
· Children ages 6-12 should get between 9 and 12 hours of sleep
· Children ages 5 and younger should get 10-16 hours, including naps
Unfortunately, 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. Teenagers on average, get about 6.5 hours of sleep per night, which is far less than recommended. And children are often getting only 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
How does sleep affect heart health?
People who do not get adequate sleep are more likely to have health problems. Some of these health problems increase the risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Poor sleep can lead to:
· High blood pressure – During normal sleep, your blood pressure and heart rate both go down. When you don’t get enough sleep, your blood pressure and heart rate stay higher for a longer period of time, causing more stress on the heart and blood vessels. Lack of sleep can trigger the production of stress hormones, which can lead to higher blood pressure and heart rate around the clock.
· Type 2 diabetes – Studies have shown that getting enough sleep may help people improve blood sugar levels. Lack of sleep can cause higher stress levels, less motivation to be physically active, weight gain, and unhealthy food choices, all of which can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. These effects can also worsen blood sugar control if you have diabetes.
· Obesity – Getting less than the recommended amount of sleep triggers production of stress hormones that can lead to unhealthy weight gain. This is especially true for children and adolescents, who need more sleep than adults.
· Poor healing and repair of cells, tissues, and blood vessels – Good sleep improves these processes, which can improve cardiovascular health.
What sleep conditions can worsen heart health?
· Sleep apnea – This is a condition resulting from your airway getting blocked repeatedly during sleep, which causes you to stop breathing for short amounts of time. Sleep apnea affects how much oxygen your body gets while you are sleeping. It increases the risk for many health problems, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and pulmonary hypertension.
· Insomnia – This refers to trouble falling and/or staying asleep. It can be short-term or long-lasting. Chronic insomnia is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.
It’s not just lack of sleep that affects heart health. Both too little and too much sleep are both associated with heart disease.
Studies have shown that people who regularly sleep over 9 hours per night are more likely to have coronary heart disease and have significantly higher death rates than people who sleep 7-8 hours per night. Researchers have not yet been able to identify the specific reason for this connection. It may be caused by multiple factors. Research is ongoing to try to figure out this connection.
I know that life is busy, but sleep is important enough that it should be a priority in your daily routine. Follow this link for tips on how to get a better night’s sleep:
Sleep tips: 6 steps to better sleep – Mayo Clinic
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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor