How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Heart
What do you think are the most important factors for good heart health? Most people would say a healthy diet, regular exercise schedule, and smoke-free lifestyle about cover it. That’s mostly correct, but here’s a fascinating fact about your heart: Regardless of your weight, smoking and exercise habits, and even your age, people who sleep less than six hours per night are about twice as likely to die of a heart attack or stroke.
Think about that for a second. You could be a spritely 20-something with a jogging habit and inexplicable love of kale and still be worse off, heart-health wise, than someone with poorer lifestyle habits, as long as they sleep enough and you don’t.
Why could that be? The truth is, we don’t know exactly how sleep affects your heart, but it probably has something to do with the fact that your heart rate and blood pressure slow down while you’re asleep. Skipping out on rest for an organ as hardworking as your heart is bound to lead to problems—and indeed, the stats seem to reflect this.
Sleep-deprived people show less variability in their heart rate, in that their heart rate tends to stay elevated more often compared to someone who sleeps enough. This is a sign that the body is under stress.
In addition, sleep deprivation seems to increase your levels of a protein called CRP, or C-reactive protein. That’s the protein released when your body is undergoing stress and inflammation, and is considered a major risk factor for cardiovascular and heart disease.
Interestingly, short sleepers are not the only ones at risk. People who regularly sleep more than nine hours per night are also at a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Seven to nine hours seems to be the magic range for optimal heart health, and health in general.
Hopefully, the link between getting enough sleep and having a healthy heart will become clearer in the coming years, but we know beyond a doubt that not sleeping enough puts you at a heightened risk for heart problems. If sleeping for fewer than six hours per night is normal for you, take this article as a sign to rethink that. To stay on top of your sleep, practice good sleep hygiene and make sure you sleep on a high-quality mattress that supports your spine.