For a Healthy Heart: Get Enough Sleep

Diet, exercise and sleep all critical to heart health

Good night's sleep

Today we know that there is more to keeping the heart healthy than eating right and exercise. Getting the right amount of sleep is just as important. People with chronic sleep disturbances such as insomnia (30 percent of us) have a shorter life expectancy compared to those who consistently sleep well.

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“Sleeping a solid seven or eight hours per night is a marker of good heart health,” says A. Marc Gillinov, MD, cardiac surgeon in Cleveland Clinic’s Heart & Vascular Institute “Exactly how sleep influences the coronary arteries is still being studied, but we do know that not getting enough sleep is associated with risk factors for heart disease.”

Optimal amount of sleep

For the majority of adults, getting between seven and eight hours each night is the optimal amount of sleep. Research from the National Sleep Foundation shows that Americans have decreased the usual amount of sleep they get from eight hours in 1960 to five or six hours today.

“Our advice at Cleveland Clinic’s Heart Center is to respect your body’s need for sleep, aiming for seven to eight hours per night”

Dr. Gillinov explains that people who sleep less than six hours per night tend to have the cardiovascular risks of higher blood pressure, higher blood sugar (which can lead to diabetes), greater inflammation, and more obesity than those who sleep longer.

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Less sleep could increase calcium buildup and weight gain

A recent study shows that inadequate sleep is associated with increased calcium buildup in the heart’s arteries. This calcium is a component of plaques that cause heart attacks. In the study, just one hour less sleep each night increased the risk of arterial calcification by 33 percent. And people who slept less than six hours per night had the greatest risk of developing changes in the arteries of the heart.

Short sleep also reduces the production of hormones that suppress appetite, and this may contribute to weight gain. These associations may explain the increased burden of cardiovascular disease in short sleepers. In a recent study from Columbia University, sleep-deprived subjects consumed an average of 300 additional calories compared to those who enjoyed a full night’s sleep: ice cream was the preferred food among those who were tired.

Dr. Gillinov says that people who sleep too long—more than nine hours each night—also may have risk factors for heart disease. A possible explanation for heart disease in long sleepers: they may stay in bed for more hours because they are already unwell.

Sleep advice

“Our advice at Cleveland Clinic’s Heart Center is to respect your body’s need for sleep, aiming for seven to eight hours per night,” Dr. Gillinov says.

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Some steps you can take to achieve healthy sleep pattern:

  • Avoid caffeinated drinks near bedtime
  • Limit alcohol
  • Find time to exercise during the day
  • Turn off the computer, cell phone, BlackBerry and television at least half an hour before going to sleep. Studies show that the mental stimulation from these devices makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Finally, when it comes to monitoring your sleep, make sure that you don’t have sleep apnea (a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing). Ask yourself two questions: Do you feel tired during the day? Do you snore loudly? If the answer to both questions is yes, ask your doctor to evaluate you for sleep apnea.

By taking these steps, you’ll feel better, sleep better and be doing your heart a favor.

Cleveland Clinic has sleep specialists who can help get you back on track. To learn more, visit the website. See this article for more about our sleep seminars.

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