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In today’s busy world, it’s not uncommon to hear about a person’s lack of sleep.  According to the American Sleep Association (ASA), the recommended amount of sleep for the average adult is 7-9 hours per night.  However, over 50 million U.S adults suffer from sleep disorders that contribute to overall sleep deprivation, and up to 35% of adults report less than 7 hours of sleep during a typical 24-hour period.  Besides the obvious result of sleep deprivation (being overtired), a significant lack of sleep can cause chronic health problems, specifically affecting your heart and increasing your risk of heart disease.  How are sleep deprivation and heart health linked?

Independent from other heart disease risks, such as poor diet, obesity, and smoking, lack of sleep is a risk factor for heart disease on its own; this even holds true for otherwise healthier individuals.  Sleep deprivation can be a result of many different sleeping issues. Some individuals struggle with falling asleep in general, while others struggle with staying asleep, keeping awake during daytime or work hours, or sleep-disordered breathing like snoring or sleep apnea.  

According to the American Heart Association (AMA), an irregular sleep pattern (one that varies from the seven- to nine-hour nightly norm) is linked to a host of cardiovascular risks, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease.  Dr. Susan Redline, Peter C. Farrell Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, states “Sleep-deprived people have higher blood levels of stress hormones and substances that indicate inflammation, a key player in cardiovascular disease. Even a single night of insufficient sleep can perturb your system.”

Sleep conditions such as insomnia and sleep apnea play major roles in how sleep, or lack thereof, affects your heart.  Studies have shown that individuals with insomnia often experience a state of hyperarousal, or feeling on edge or anxious; this can contribute to drastic increases in blood pressure.  Additionally, obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which a person will briefly stop breathing during a sleeping period; this can happen infrequently, or hundreds of times throughout your sleep.   Sleep apnea, often associated with obesity, is also known to increase the risk of high blood pressure, as well as heart attack and stroke. When the body is experiencing an apneic episode, it responds by increasing adrenaline in an effort to wake you up.  “With increased adrenaline comes increased blood pressure and increased blood clots – the kind that lead to stroke. One study of 1,475 people found that those with moderate or severe sleep apnea were 3 to 4 times more likely to have a stroke.”

If you are noticing you are having trouble sleeping, or show signs of any sleep disorders, you should consult your doctor on what you can do.  To practice better sleeping habits, stick to a schedule, exercise, eat a well-balanced diet, and reduce stress levels.