Most people know that one of the cornerstones of a healthy life is a good, regular sleep pattern. But many people are unaware that your sleep habits have a direct impact on the health of your heart.
Day to day life doesn’t always allow us that perfect eight hours – falling asleep naturally and waking feeling refreshed can feel like a luxury in today’s busy world.
But what actually happens to your heart while you are asleep? What effect does poor sleep have on your heart? And what can you do to help your sleep and your heart health?
What happens to your heart while you sleep?
One of the most important stages of sleep in terms of your body recovering from the stresses of the day is called non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. During this phase your heart rate slows, your breathing stabilises and blood pressure drops. With these processes taking place, stress on the heart decreases, allowing for recovery.
Poor sleep hygiene – such as late consumption of caffeine or use of blue light-emitting devices just before bed – makes it harder for your body to reach NREM sleep. This means that your heart rate won’t slow as much, your blood pressure won’t drop, and your breathing won’t necessarily stabilise.
These things will not cause you problems as an occasional one-off. But if poor sleep hygiene and subsequent lack of NREM sleep becomes a regular habit, the risk of high cholesterol, heart attack, obesity, stroke and high blood pressure start to rise.
The effects of poor sleep on your heart
- Increased risk of weight gain. A study at King’s College London found that lack of sleep can influence our appetite and increase our desire for sugary foods, leading to weight gain and an increase in the chance of coronary heart disease.
- Diabetes. A good night’s sleep helps to regulate your blood sugars. So poor sleep leads to poor regulation of blood sugars and can cause diabetes. High blood sugar levels can lead to damage to the heart, blood vessels and kidneys.
- Coronary heart disease. Poor sleep causes chronic inflammation. Plaque forms as a result of inflammation and hardens the arteries and forms clots that can go on to cause heart attacks.
- Sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea causes the sufferer to wake up frequently, interrupting processes such as NREM sleep. People who suffer from it are therefore much more likely to have heart arrhythmia, heart failure and coronary artery disease. Other sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome are also known to increase the chance of heart problems.
- High blood pressure. Nocturnal dipping is the process of your blood pressure dropping throughout the night. It should decrease by between 10-20%. High blood pressure during sleep has been linked to an increased chance of heart attack and stroke, as well as kidney problems and reduced blood flow to the brain.
Top tips for managing your sleep for a healthier heart
- Get 6-8 hours of sleep per night, this makes sure your body is getting enough recovery time, allowing your blood pressure to drop.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, this makes it easier to fall asleep each night and makes it easier for your body to reach NREM sleep.
- Don’t use your phone just before you go to bed, blue light tricks our brain into believing it’s not time to sleep, therefore keeping you in a light sleep and stopping NREM. This affects your body’s blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Avoid caffeine before bed, similar to blue light, caffeine stops you from hitting NREM sleep at the right time and for as long as you should.
What can ECG at Home do for you?
Are you worried about your heart’s health?
Bad eating, drinking, stress and sleeping habits can all have a significant impact on your overall health, in particular your heart.
At ECG at Home, we offer ECG tests that you can perform in the comfort of your own home, so you don’t have to spend months waiting to get one on the NHS. This test will reveal the rhythm, rate and electrical activity of your heart, highlighting any areas for concern and giving you the reassurance you deserve.
You can order a test here.
And you can learn more about what an ECG test is by reading this blog.