Give your heart the gift of good sleep

A man sleeps peacefully on his side while the morning sun peeks through his bedroom curtains.

Prioritizing sleep is incredibly beneficial for overall health, but especially for maintaining good cardiac function.

Getting both good quality and quantity of sleep is one of the most underrated and most important things you can do for your overall health. Sleep promotes healthy memory and cognitive function, supports a healthy immune system, regulates blood sugar and hormonal functions, reduces stress levels, and improves your mood.

How much sleep do we need?

Most adults need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. But sleep duration is not the only measurement of good sleep. We also need to have good quality sleep. This means:

  • Falling asleep within 30 minutes of getting into bed.
  • Sleeping through the night.
  • Falling asleep within 20 minutes if woken up in the middle of the night.
  • Waking up feeling energized, rested, and ready to start the day.

The sleep and heart health connection: What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Poor sleep is a major risk factor for cardiac problems, including heart disease, heart attack, and heart failure. Here’s why: When we sleep, our heart rate and blood pressure go down, allowing our heart and vascular system to rest and repair. When we aren’t getting sufficient sleep or our sleep is interrupted, our blood pressure and heart rate stay elevated.

High blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease and stroke. This increase in overnight blood pressure and heart rate also triggers hormonal changes like higher cortisol levels, decreased insulin sensitivity, and increased hunger hormones, which are correlated with inflammation, weight gain, and diabetes — all of which are risk factors for heart disease.

A five-year study by the National Institutes of Health found that older adults with irregular sleep patterns were twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who had good sleep habits.1

Sleep conditions that hurt your heart

While poor sleep habits in general can raise your risk of cardiovascular problems, there are two sleep conditions that are particularly bad for your heart: insomnia and sleep apnea.

  1. Insomnia is a sleep disorder where you consistently have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. When we experience chronic sleep deprivation, we are running in a constant state of low energy. That means we’re less likely to get healthy levels of physical activity and more likely to eat unhealthy fast food. These poor lifestyle habits are linked to obesity and high blood pressure, which increase heart disease risk.
  2. Sleep apnea is a common breathing disorder where you temporarily stop breathing or have shallow pauses in your breath while you’re sleeping, limiting your ability to get restorative sleep. Symptoms of sleep apnea are snoring, morning headaches, daytime sleepiness, and difficulty falling or staying asleep. If left untreated, sleep apnea can significantly increase your risk of heart problems like irregular heartbeat, oxidative stress, heart disease, and heart failure.

Certain medications can cause sleep problems

Some medications that treat common chronic health conditions can unintentionally cause sleep problems. They include:

If you experience sleep issues related to your prescription or over-the-counter medications, reach out to your doctor or pharmacist. It’s important that you don’t stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor or pharmacist first.

At Express Scripts® Pharmacy, we have pharmacists who have special training and knowledge around medications that may affect sleep. They may be able to recommend an alternative medication, lower your medication dose, or recommend a different time of day to take your medication so it’s less likely to interfere with your sleep. You can also ask your pharmacist if any sleep supplements, like melatonin, may be right for you.

How to set yourself up for successful sleep

There are certain things you can do to help get a good night’s sleep. Here are some tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule where you go to sleep and get up at the same time each day.
  • Set a bedtime that’s early enough to ensure you can get 7 to 9 hours of sleep.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Make your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable.
  • Limit exposure to bright light or blue light in the evenings, such as TV, smartphones, and tablets.
  • Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed.
  • Don’t eat a large meal (particularly one that’s high in fat or sugar) before bedtime.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
  • Reduce your fluid intake before bed to avoid having to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Steer clear of alcohol before bedtime.

1 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Study finds irregular sleep patterns double the risk of cardiovascular disease in older adults (March 2, 2020):

Posted date: February 16, 2023

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