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How sleep deprivation affects your heart

Sleep-&-Heart-Health

Getting a sub-par night’s sleep can result in a feeling of sluggishness, an inability to process complex thoughts and situations and leave you grumpy. These are not the only consequences of a bad night’s sleep however, with a consistent lack of proper sleep leading to some serious risk factors of heart disease; including high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

 

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

While everyone is different, the average amount of sleep required by an adult in order to reset their body and leave them refreshed for new day is somewhere between seven and nine hours. This amount of rest is needed in order for your blood pressure to drop, tissue to grow and repair, your brain to process a backlog of thoughts and for hormones to be released into your system which keep you calm and happy[1]. Conditions such as sleep apnea (a serious disorder causing you to stop breathing multiple times while you sleep), insomnia or simply not making sleep a priority in your life, can lead to either broken sleep or sleep periods which are shorter than what your body requires in order to function at an optimal level.

 

Increased Blood Pressure

When we sleep our bodies have a chance to shut down and repair. Unfortunately, if our sleep is impaired or limited, a range of things will hinder this process. Sleep is believed to regulate stress hormones, cleansing our systems of excess and balancing them with hormones which induce sleep, happiness and calm. If we are unable to get seven or so hours of sleep consistently, this can lead to elevated levels of stress hormones, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure and subsequently putting you at a higher risk of heart disease. The time in which we are asleep too, allows for our blood vessels, veins and arteries to relax as our heart rate lowers and our blood pressure drops. If your sleep is disturbed by conditions such as sleep apnea, and you are constantly roused from your slumber, this can lead to inflammation in your endothelial cells[2] (the cells which line the inside of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels) impacting drastically on your cardiovascular health.

 

Diabetes and Obesity

If you aren’t getting enough quality sleep and your body is unable to regulate its hormone levels, this can have an even further reaching impact than increased blood pressure. The higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol associated with a shorter night’s sleep has been found to promote the development of insulin resistance, a risk factor for both obesity and diabetes[3]. A lack of sleep can increase your risk of obesity in a variety of ways, when tired, a common biological response is to consume foods higher in sugar and fats, in order to try and get a quick rush of energy to relieve your exhausted state. Those who are tired too, are less likely to engage in vigorous physical activity and new studies have even found that lack of sleep can impact on the secretion of a signalling hormone called ghrelin, which helps you regulate your appetite, diminishing your ability to feel satisfied even when you are full.

 

Too Much Sleep

While sleeping excessively may seem like a great way to avoid the risk factors for heart disease associated with limited or broken sleep, this isn’t the case. A study by Harvard Health found that those who slept for nine or more hours a night had more calcium buildup in the artery walls of their hearts and also had stiffer leg arteries than those who slept seven hours a night.

While it can seem daunting how negatively insufficient sleep can impact on your heart health, there are simple steps you can take to improve your sleep. Limiting stimulants like coffee, getting enough exercise and sticking to a good nighttime routine can all result in a healthier mind and body, and can help keep your heart in good shape.

 

[1] Health.qld.gov.au. (2018). 7 amazing things that happen to your body while you sleep. [online] Available at: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-alerts/news/7-amazing-things-that-happen-to-your-body-while-you-sleep [Accessed 4 Mar. 2019].

[2] Newman, T. (2018). Even minor sleep problems raise women’s blood pressure. [online] Medical News Today. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322270.php [Accessed 4 Mar. 2019].

[3] Eve Van Cauter, PhD; Kristen Knutson, PhD; Rachel Leproult, PhD; Karine Spiegel, PhD 2005; The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism Medscape Neurology. ;7(1) Medscape