The Surprising Ways Sleep Impacts Heart Health

Published: Monday, March 15, 2021

Everyone has experienced a restless night at least once or twice, likely even more. Worse than the tossing and turning is the next morning, when you feel grouchy and irritated by the smallest things. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep can impact far more than your mood — it can also hurt your heart health.

“When you think about protecting your heart, getting routine exercise and eating healthy foods are likely the first factors that come to mind,” explains Pavani Kolakalapudi, MD, FACC, non-invasive cardiologist with Georgia Heart Institute. “While both of those are important steps you can take to keep your heart healthy, getting enough quality sleep shouldn’t be overlooked.”

For optimal health, it’s recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. However, many adults likely fall short of that amount for various reasons. In fact, 70 percent of adults report having issues sleeping at least once each month.

Why Sleep Is Important for Your Heart Health

To really understand why sleep is so important to your heart health, you need to understand what happens when we sleep. Sleep provides the body and mind time to rest and recuperate, preparing for a new day.

While you’re sleeping, your body goes through two main types of sleep—rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.

During REM sleep, your mind is still active; this is the part of sleep where you dream. During NREM sleep, though, your body and mind slow down. Your breathing, your heart rate, and your blood pressure slow, and your muscles relax.

“The NREM phases of sleep are particularly important for your heart health,” emphasizes Dr. Kolakalapudi. “Because everything slows during NREM, your heart is able to relax and recover from strain that happens while you’re awake.”

When you don’t get enough sleep, particularly NREM sleep, you’re at a higher risk of developing many different heart health issues, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, even heart attack and stroke.

“On its own, a lack of sleep can take a serious toll on heart health; however, the true impact of sleep loss is often compounded by other factors and behaviors that it leads to,” says Dr. Kolakalapudi. “For example, a lack of sleep can spur on unhealthy food choices, a lack of motivation or energy for exercise and higher stress levels, all of which are hard on your heart.”

How to Get the Sleep You Need for Your Heart Health

While there are many factors that can make getting restful sleep difficult, like an underlying sleep disorder, oftentimes, simple changes can make a big impact.

“Many factors that can help you sleep more soundly at night, like getting routine exercise and making time to de-stress and relax, are all habits that support heart health, too,” says Dr. Kolakalapudi. “By prioritizing sleep health, you’re also establishing heart-healthy habits.”

A few tips to try:

  • Set a consistent bedtime and wake-time. Stick to a set time each day, even on the weekends when you’d rather be sleeping in. This will help train your body to feel tired and ready for sleep when it’s time to go to bed.
  • Keep the bedroom dark and cool. Studies have found that keeping the bedroom around 68 degrees or cooler is ideal for sleep.
  • Eat earlier. Not only is this better for your digestive health, but eating earlier in the evening will prevent uncomfortable feelings of fullness and will limit symptoms of acid reflux or other conditions, all of which can make sleep difficult.
  • Unwind before bedtime. This can include anything that’s soothing to you and helps you bring the day to a close, such as taking a bath or shower, meditating, journaling or reading a printed book or magazine.
  • Exercise – but not too close to bedtime. Regular physical activity not only helps to increase your drive for sleep, but it can also help you to fall asleep faster. But remember, activity too close to bedtime can be overly stimulating.

A Lifetime of Heart Health

At Georgia Heart Institute, our dedicated team of more than 80 cardiologists and advanced practice providers are committed to helping you achieve lasting heart health. This goes beyond providing comprehensive care and utilizing the most advanced treatments to ensure you have the tools and resources you need to lead your healthiest life every day. Find your partner in lasting heart health!