Health & Wellness Articles

Sleeping Better for a Healthier Heart

A Good Night's Rest Can Boost Heart Health

We all know how great a good night's rest feels. You wake up feeling refreshed, energized and ready to tackle your day. Unfortunately, this rested feeling is the exception and not the norm for many who live busy lives in the modern world, and it's hurting more than our energy levels—it's also harming our hearts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-quarter of the U.S. population report occasionally not getting enough sleep, while nearly 10% experience chronic insomnia.

Although it may feel like it, sleep isn't a passive activity, or a luxury for that matter. It's a must for your overall health and well-being and according numerous studies, it's essential for a healthy heart. According to the CDC and numerous studies, not getting enough sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. Together, these four health conditions prove a powerful case that sleep isn't just beneficial, it's vital.

You may think that Type 2 diabetes is just about keeping your weight down and eating healthy foods, but research has found that sleep also plays an important role. According to a September 2010 study published in the Annals of Epidemiology journal, people who slept less than six hours a night were three times more likely to develop incident-impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG), a condition where your body isn't able to regulate glucose as efficiently as it should. How does this related to heart health? People with IFG have a greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and are at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Chronic Stress
Stress is another important factor when it comes to having a healthy heart. Other studies have shown that a lack of sleep can decrease glucose tolerance and increase the body's production of cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress (plus we all know how hard it is to make healthy choices and lose weight when you're stressed!). Additionally, researchers have found that lack of sleep results in a 28% increase in average levels of ghrelin, known as the hunger hormone, leading to increased cravings and consumption of foods, making it even harder to prevent or control type 2 diabetes and therefore heart disease and stroke.

Cardiovascular Disease
There are numerous studies linking insufficient sleep with a number of cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure, stroke, coronary heart disease and irregular heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmias).

The most recent shows the negative effects of burning the candle at both ends. Published in the February 2011 European Heart Journal, researchers found that sleeping less than six hours a night due to disturbed sleep gives you a 48 percent greater chance of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15 percent greater chance of experiencing or dying from a stroke.

An earlier study from December 2008 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that. Compared with people who sleep seven to nine hours a night, people who don’t get enough shuteye are more likely to develop calcium deposits in their coronary arteries, raising their risk for heart disease. In fact, even after accounting for various other causes, researchers found that when sleep-deprived subjects get just one more hour of sleep per night, they had a 33 percent decrease in their odds of developing calcium deposits in their arteries. Although they're not certain why sleep helps keep arteries healthy, researchers hypothesize it helps combat stress, and the fact that when you sleep your blood pressure naturally lowers.

The disrupting sleep condition sleep apnea has a particularly strong connection with heart disease, but it's a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. A January 2007 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter reported that poor sleep can contribute to heart disease, and heart disease can in turn disturb sleep. Poor sleep increases levels of C-reactive protein and other substances that signal active inflammation in the body. It also revs up the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which can strain the heart. On the slip side, sometimes heart disease is a cause of poor sleep, as many people with heart failure may wake up from due to breathing difficulties.

Being overweight or obese puts strains on the body, especially the heart. According to the CDC, research has found an association between short sleep duration and excess body weight in all demographics, including children. It is believed that sleep in childhood and adolescence is particularly important for brain development and that insufficient sleep in young people may adversely affect the hypothalamus in the brain, which regulates appetite. As mentioned earlier, ghrelin and cortisol are also negatively affected when you don't get enough ZZZs. This can cause an increase in appetite, which can lead to overeating and overweight—a major risk factor for heart disease.

Although the relationship between sleep and depression is complex and not fully understood, sleep disturbance and depression have long been recognized as related factors. According to the CDC, recent research has shown that depressive symptoms may decrease once sleep apnea has been effectively treated and sufficient sleep restored. This close relationship—and depression's negative effects on the heart—makes sleep an important factor in heart health.

Sleeping Better for a Healthier Ticker
So now that you know how important sleep is to heart health, what can you do about it? Follow these tips to get the most from your ZZZs!

  1. Pay attention to quality. Ideally, you want to sleep the whole night through (most experts recommend seven to nine hours), but if you find yourself waking up multiple times a night or being exhausted even after a full night of rest, you may have disturbed sleep. See your doctor for more help in pinpointing what's up.
  2. Don't get too much of a good thing. If you regularly sleep more than nine hours a night, it can actually be an indicator of illness or even cardiovascular disease. Again, see your doctor.
  3. Rise and shine at the same time. Our bodies function and sleep best on a regular waking and sleeping schedule, so try to get to bed and get up at the same time every day—even on weekends. Make quality sleep a priority!
  4. Prepare for bed. At least an hour before bed, stop watching TV or playing on the computer. Put on some nice quiet, relaxing music and wind down with a good book or a hot bath. Also, be sure to make your bedroom a serene place you like to be with low lights and calming sounds, colors and images.
  5. Plan your healthy lifestyle around sleep. Alcohol and caffeinated beverages can both have a negative impact on sleep, so limit your consumption of both, especially in the afternoon and evening. Also, be sure that you're not exercising too close to bedtime; morning or early afternoon workouts are better if you have trouble falling asleep.
  6. De-stress daily. Too much stress is bad for your heart and it can disrupt sleep. Take time for you each day with these easy stress-busting tips.
  7. Get out of bed if you can't sleep. You should use your bed for two things: sleeping and sex. Anything else—including lying awake unable to sleep—should be done somewhere else in your home.
  8. Start a sleep journal. If you aren't sleeping well, make an appointment with your doctor, and then keep a sleep journal for about 10 days before your visit. Write down when you go to bed, go to sleep, wake up, get out of bed, take naps, exercise, and consume alcohol and caffeinated beverages. Your findings should help you and your doctor get you on a plan to better sleep!

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Sleep and Sleep Disorders," accessed March 2011.

Control and Prevention. "Sleep and Chronic Disease," accessed March 2011.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Sleep Hygiene Tips," accessed March 2011.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "What Should I Do If I Can't Sleep?," accessed March 2011.

Harvard Health Publications. "Poor sleep habits: heart disease and sleep apnea," accessed March 2011.

Rabin, Roni Caryn. "A Mysterious Link Between Sleeplessness and Heart Disease," accessed March 2011.

ScienceDaily "Short Sleepers at Higher Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease, Study Finds," accessed March 2011. "Too Little Sleep Too Often May Harm Your Heart," accessed March 2011.

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Member Comments

  • Good timely information.
  • I'm saving this article!!!
  • I keep a fan on by my bed to provide steady noise so other noises, like family talking , do not interfere. I heard that if you set your phone to greyscale at bedtime, it won't be as much of a deterrent to falling asleep, so I have been trying that.
  • I have had recurrent insomnia and intermittent sleep since menopause. I sleep better when I do not drink any alcohol (regardless of time of day), stop all caffeine after noon and lately I've started to take Natrol Tart Cherry Powder (250 mg) with Melatonin (0.5 mg) that seems to be helping. They come in chewable tablets. Stopping electronics after 9pm also helps. Now, if I could only stop watching CNN so much...! Thanks for this article!
  • This was the first article that I have read stating to get out of bed if you can sleep. Grant I will do that on occasion to end up house cleaning and just staying up till bed time of that day. If I nap during daylight, I will not sleep the night thru for certain. Think I will talk to dr. about the sleep testing that I have read about in some of the other comments. Between kids, bathroom runs, and husband having radio/TV so loud from downstairs that I hear every word, I figured that was the only reasons.
  • According to the Mayo Clinic, this advice is wrong "Get out of bed if you can't sleep. You should use your bed for two things: sleeping and sex. Anything else—including lying awake unable to sleep—should be done somewhere else in your home."
    They say just the opposite. If you have sleep problems, never sleep during the day, but go to bed at the same time each night. If you can't sleep, stay in bed because if you do fall asleep you will be in the bed. They say not to get up and do anything else, don't play music or turn on the TV. Try to relax and calm your mind.
  • As this article states, the effects of poor sleep on our heart is daunting. Sadly, many of us struggle to sleep more and achieve a better quality of sleep. While it is important to be informed about health related issues associated with poor sleep, I believe that current research and studies might be available to reference in this article. Bringing back older articles is good, many of us have not read them before, or we simply appreciate an opportunity to reread. Maybe it is time for a little refresh...instead of automatically assuming all is well...articles get another shot at editing to gleen new info?! Just a thought...
  • I know i do better when I have a consistent bedtime. I still find that I get up each night at least once to use the restroom, but I am not sure how to solve that.
    I haven't slept through the night in 25 years, I doubt anything is going to change that now. I've tried all the sleep hygiene tricks and yet my sleep patterns are all over the place. Proper sleep is a complicated issue.
  • It would be nice if we all had jobs that allowed us to get enough sleep. Too bad we don't.
  • I don't get enough rest from a night's sleep. I awaken about every hour, perhaps 1/2 hour. I do better if I take an arthritis Tylenol at bedtime.
  • I sleep pretty good until my hip started to hurt me. I have alot of sleepless nights.
  • My sleep has never been great. I went to my doctor and she sent me to a sleep specialist. After the sleep study they said I would benefit from a mouth guard, my dentist refers to it as a splint. I was leery about wearing a two piece hard plastic device in my mouth. After it was properly fitted, I adapted in about a week to having it in my mouth. My partner says I no longer snore. He was surprised how quiet I am at night. I sleep more deeply. My dreams are more vivid too. I 'm more rested in the morning.

About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites, and A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.