Do you want to prevent a heart attack? You need more than a plant-based diet and regular exercise! Adequate amounts of good quality sleep are very essential to heart and blood vessel health!
One out of ten Americans suffer from insomnia. Unfortunately, insomnia is a significant risk factor for heart attack.1 However, sleep shortage from whatever cause, spells “hazard to heart health. Middle-aged men who sleep five hours or less per night have twice the risk of developing a major cardiovascular event during the following two decades than men who sleep seven to eight hours by age 71.2
Even short-term sleep deprivation (working a 24-hour shift) significantly increases heart muscle contractility, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate in healthy young doctors. This particular study also found that the thyroid hormones and the stress hormone cortisol were elevated.3
A large study of more than 54,000 individuals (ages between 20-89) found that individuals who experienced difficulty in falling asleep, or staying asleep, and did not wake up feeling refreshed in the morning more than tripled the risk for heart failure.4
Poor sleep is a risk factor for atrial fibrillation where the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly and 30% less efficiently. This condition increases the risk for heart attacks, blood clots, strokes, and kidney disease considerably.5
Short Sleep Creates Inflammation
Today we know that inflammation characterizes all the developing steps in atherosclerosis. Insufficient sleep increases white blood cells and inflammatory compounds that accelerate atherosclerosis or plaque build-up in the arteries. One of the controls of inflammation becomes dysfunctional even though a person sleeps but is frequently awakened.6 Indeed, missing a few hours of a single night of sleep triggers significant pathways of inflammation in your blood vessels, tissues, and organs.7
By the way, one night of partial sleep loss makes your heart muscle susceptible to injury during acute exercise.8) If you did not sleep well the night before, skip the marathon!
Short Sleep Activates Your Fight or Flight Response
Blood pressure rises the following day if you short yourself on sleep. This is true– whether or not you have normal or high blood pressure. Even partial sleep deprivation activates your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), circulating levels of nor-epinephrine, and your flight or fight responses.9 Elevated blood pressure can drive a normal amount of cholesterol into your arteries and increase your risk for blood clots. Sleep loss influences the genes that regulate cholesterol in such a way so that less of the good cholesterol (HDL) is produced.10 Just one week of insufficient sleep changes the body’s immune system and metabolism in such a way as to encourage atherosclerosis. 11 Sleep apnea changes the beneficial HDL into a biochemical villain that promotes atherosclerosis instead of preventing it.12
Benefits of Sleep
Adequate sleep helps to reduce our cardiovascular risk factors such as elevated cholesterol and blood fats, obesity, and diabetes.13 Deep sleep improves the protein synthesis in the heart muscles and the efficiency of the heart muscle itself. During normal, good quality sleep, your blood pressure goes down. In contrast, experiencing sleep shortage or problems means that the blood pressure stays higher for a longer time.14 Many cardiologists are recommending that BP stays below 120/80 as even prehypertension increases the risk for cardiovascular disease substantially. Diabetes damages the blood vessels. Sleep deprivation even in healthy young men promotes insulin resistance.
Insufficient amount of sleep time and low quality sleep influence the nervous system, endocrine, immune and inflammatory responses, promote the generation of excessive free radicals, and diminish the capacity of blood vessels to dilate optimally which encourages the progression of atherosclerosis!15
Follow a regular schedule. Maintaining regularity in sleep hours is essential to optimal heart health. Conversely, disturbing our 24-hour rhythms profoundly influences our heart health negatively.16 You need regular and sufficient hours of good quality sleep. How much sleep? 7 to 8 hours. Use bright light in the morning to help manage your circadian rhythm. Avoiding bright light in the evening and exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning help to reset your body clocks. Have set times for meals too. Irregular times for meals and sleep compromise the body’s master clock ability to regulate the many biological clocks that control aspects of your metabolism.
Blue Light Blues
Limit exposure to blue light a couple of hours prior to retiring. Many of us work on our computers or check social media before going to sleep. The blue light emitted from our screen boosts alertness and compromises our body’s circadian rhythms and sleep efficiency by interrupting the continuity of our sleep.17 To avoid this disruption, you can apply screen filters that replace the blue light on the spectrum with a much weaker red light. This reduces the damage to the suppression of melatonin, which helps with a good night’s sleep. You can also wear blue light blocking computer glasses.
Even falling asleep while watching television compromises the quality of your sleep. Of course, watching drama and soap operas ratchets up your sympathetic nervous system responses! Studies show that imaginary stress can have much the same effect as genuine stress.
Nutrition for Good Sleep
Enjoy green leafy veggies and well-cooked legumes. Why? Because these foods have magnesium, which is a natural muscle relaxant that improves sleep.18 Nuts, seeds, and soy contain tryptophan that boosts your serotonin levels naturally.
What we eat influences the quality of our sleep. Refined carbs and too much sugar and salt impact the quality and duration of our sleep. Sleep deprivation encourages nighttime eating.19 The metabolism of carbs and insulin release is slower at night, so drinking a fruit smoothie or eating pasta at night is unwise for individuals who have prediabetes, diabetes, or obesity. A high fat meal at night compromises the quality of sleep. See this article at this link Can’t Sleep? Check your Diet!/ for more information on how diet impacts sleep.
Eat a light supper three hours prior to retiring or better yet, fast during evening hours. Late night eating can disturb circadian rhythms, which you need to insure a good quality of sleep. Both deep sleep and fasting during evening and overnight hours increase the production of growth hormone during deep sleep and help aid the body in burning fat.
Exercise Improves Insomnia
Engage in daily, moderate exercise—preferably in the morning. Moderate exercise can prove quite effective in promoting sleep. One study, for example, found: 20
Vigorous exercisers are more than twice as likely to report that they slept well almost every night (if not every night) and experienced less sleep difficulties than non-exercisers. More than two-thirds of vigorous exercisers say they rarely or never (in the past 2 weeks) woke up too early and experienced difficulty in returning to sleep (72%) or have difficulty falling asleep (69%).
In contrast, one-half (50%) of non-exercisers say they woke up during the night and nearly one-fourth (24%) had difficulty falling asleep every night or almost every night.
One in seven non-exercisers report having trouble staying awake while driving, eating, or engaging in social activity at least once a week, in the past two weeks, almost three times the rate of those who exercise.
Even if you cannot manage 30 minutes of exercise a day, exercise periods of ten minutes 3 times during the day is helpful. It is best not to engage in vigorous exercise prior to retiring because the motor system has direct neural pathways to the alarm center of the brain.Tight muscles during the day means inferior sleep during the night. So periodically perform stretches during the day and watch your posture. A misaligned spine encourages muscle spasm.
Make sure your room is at a comfortable temperature, completely dark, and has fresh air, in order to get the best production of melatonin. Melatonin is an antioxidant. It lowers blood pressure and bolsters the immune system. Cover your eyes with a soft dark cloth if necessary. Be sure to adjust the room temperature between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. If your bedroom is too hot or cold, the brain’s alarm clock (reticular activating system) will keep you awake. So, don’t hesitate to get a blanket if you need one!
A neutral tub bath helps insomnia because it reduces the responses of the sympathetic nervous system. The temperature should be around 97 degrees Fahrenheit Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to the warm water as that aroma helps to reduce insomnia. Slow deep breathing helps to relax one.
Rats’ Nests of Anxiety
Chronic anxiety and depression are like rats’ nests in one’s house. Troublesome thoughts scurry across our mind to keep us awake at times. Deal with issues that contribute to your anxiety. FYI: Overcoming Anxiety Eight Natural Remedies and Mental Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety.
Nothing to Dismiss
Persistent sleep problems are nothing to ignore. See your doctor and a sleep specialist if none of these suggestions helps you gain restorative sleep. Sleep apnea affects how much oxygen your body gets while you sleep and increases the risk for many health problems, including high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke and is in many cases treatable. Heartburn, cardiovascular and brain diseases, overactive thyroid, asthma, and muscular-skeletal problems frequently contribute to poor sleep. Treat the cause!
For more practical information on how to reduce stress and anxiety, see articles at under Mental Health
Disclaimer: The information in this article is helpful and is educational. It is not the author’s or authors’ or Wildwood Health Institute’s intent to substitute the blog article for diagnosis, counseling, or treatment by a qualified health professional.
Copyright through December 2023. All rights reserved by Wildwood Sanitarium, Inc.
- Sivertsen Bl. Insomnia as a risk factor for ill health: results from the large population-based prospective HUNT Study in Norway. Journal of Sleep Research. 2014;23(2):124–132. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12102.
- European Society of Cardiology. “Sleeping five hours or less a night associated with doubled risk of cardiovascular disease.” ScienceDaily, 26 August 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180826120749.htm.
- Radiological Society of North America. “Short-term sleep deprivation affects heart function.” ScienceDaily. 2 December 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161202100943.htm
- Lars E. Laugsand. Insomnia and the risk of incident heart failure: a population study. European Heart Journal, 2013 DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/eht019
- Christensen MA.Sleep characteristics that predict atrial fibrillation. Heart Rhythm, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.hrthm.2018.05.008
- McAlpine CS. Sleep modulates haematopoiesis and protects against atherosclerosis. Nature, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-0948-2
- Elsevier. “Loss Of Sleep, Even For A Single Night, Increases Inflammation In The Body.” ScienceDaily, 4 September 2008. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080902075211.htm.
- Mejri MA. One night of partial sleep deprivation increased biomarkers of muscle and cardiac injuries during acute intermittent exercise. Sports Med Phys Fitness. (2017
- Michiaki Nagai. Sleep Duration as a Risk Factor for Cardiovascular Disease- a Review of the Recent Literature. Current Cardiology Reviews, 2010, 6, 54-61.
- Whiteman H. Sleep deprivation may lower ‘good’ cholesterol. April 24, 2016. www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/309482.php
- Hall E. Can Your Good Cholesterol Go Bad? wildwoodhealth.com/blog/can-your-good-cholesterol-go-bad/. July 31, 2018.
- Cibele Aparecida Crispim. Food Intake and Sleep Pattern in Healthy Individuals
- Calhoun DA, Harding SM. Sleep and HypertensionExternal. CHEST. 2010; 138(2):434-43.
- Manabu Kadoya and Hidenori Koyama. Sleep, Autonomic Nervous Function and Atherosclerosis. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Feb; 20(4): 794.
- Reitz CJ. Disruption of Circadian Rhythms and Sleep on Critical Illness and the Impact on Cardiovascular Events. Curr Pharm Des. 2015; 21(24):3505-11.
- University of Haifa. “Blue light emitted by screens damages our sleep, study suggests.” ScienceDaily, 22 August 2017. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170822103434.htm.
- The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec; 17(12): 1161–1169
- Hall E. Can’t Sleep? Check Your Diet! wildwoodhealth.com/blog/cant-sleep-check-your-diet/. March 28, 2018.
- National Sleep Foundation. “Exercise key to good sleep.” ScienceDaily, 4 March 2013. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130304123551.htm