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Is Poor Sleep Hurting Your Heart?

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Insomnia carries a wide range of risks, but did you know that insomnia can also interfere with your heart health? A new study from the University of Pittsburgh has found a link between poor sleep and heart damage. Read on to discover more about this curious link and how you can improve your sleep quality.

Insomnia can cause a wide range of problems, including daytime drowsiness, irritability, and concentration problems. But a new study from the University of Pittsburgh has found that insomnia and poor sleep may also adversely affect your heart health.

The study published in October 2016, found a link between sleep problems in menopausal women and their heart health. When women reported getting less sleep at night, there was a correlation to an increased presence of plaque build-up in the heart.

Sleep Study Details

The study examined 256 women between the ages of 40 and 60. The women wore wrist monitors at night to gauge their sleep habits. The women also answered questions about their sleep quality and mood and had several blood tests and artery ultrasounds during the study. Women who had the worst sleep also showed the biggest build-up of plaque in their hearts, contributing to an increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other heart problems.

The study authors stated that this increase in risk wasn't severe, but was significant. "Our results indicate that short or poor sleep is associated with some increased risk for cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke," the researchers noted.

What was most surprising about the study was that the women who had the worst sleep had the biggest increase in health risks. For every hour of sleep lost, the amount of plaque build-up in the women increased. Women who slept between five and six hours a night had the most plaque build-up in their hearts. However, women who slept more than seven hours showed no increase in protective benefits from sleep. In addition to the visible buildup of plaque, the researchers noted that poor sleep quality can have other adverse effects on health.

"We know that with lack of sleep there is an increased risk of high blood pressure, there is an increased risk of obesity, inflammatory markers go up and stress hormones go up," the study authors said. With the objective markers in the new study, Steinbaum said, it reinforces the idea that "not sleeping is so detrimental to health."

Women should expect their doctors to pay attention and offer solutions if they report they aren't sleeping well, she said.

Insomnia and Health Risks

The University of Pittsburgh is not the only research center to study insomnia's ill effects on overall health. Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology also investigated the risk. The researchers in this study found that insomnia increased the chronic activation of the stress response, increased the heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and elevated inflammation in the arteries, which are all contributing factors to plaque build-up.

This study was much larger, examining over 54,000 women and men between age 20 and age 89. Over 11 years, 1,412 of the study participants were diagnosed with heart failure. The study authors found that more people diagnosed with heart failure had also reported insomnia earlier in the study. Study participants who listed three or more symptoms of insomnia were three times more likely to have heart problems later.

“We do not know whether heart failure is caused by insomnia, but if it is, insomnia is a potentially treatable condition using strategies such as following simple recommendations concerning sleeping habits, often referred to as sleep hygiene, and several psychological and pharmacological therapies,” the study authors stated. “Evaluation of sleep problems might provide additional information that could be used in the prevention of heart failure.”

The Risks of Insomnia

Insomnia can be caused by a wide variety of factors, from simply not going to bed on time to a serious medical condition where it is nearly impossible to get restful sleep. If you suffer from chronic insomnia, there are many health risks in addition to an increased risk of heart failure. These risks include:

Health Risks of Insomnia 
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor work quality
  • Reduced quality of life

Certain lifestyle habits can contribute to insomnia. These habits can include, daily naps, working during the night, sleeping in to make up for lost sleep, working as a shift worker, or you stay up late for entertainment even after you are tired. These habits can lead to a chronic problem of insomnia, even if you don't have a medical cause for your insomnia.

Both individuals who had insomnia from a medical cause and those who simply slept fewer than seven hours a night both had increased health risks.

Simple Steps to Conquer Insomnia

Even if your insomnia is caused by a medication or medical condition, these steps can help reduce your insomnia and help you sleep better at night. If you don't have a medical condition causing your insomnia, these healthy habits will help form a solid foundation of healthy sleep that will prevent serious health risks down the road, including reducing your risk for plaque buildup in your heart.

Avoid Awakening Foods

Certain foods can interfere with your sleep. Alcohol is a sedative, but it tends to cause night waking and may wake you up too early. Frequently drinking alcohol at night can interfere with proper sleep habits. Caffeine is a stimulant that will keep most people awake at night. Most health professionals recommend not drinking caffeine afternoon to protect your delicate sleep/wake cycle. If you avoid caffeine later in the day, you will sleep better at night and wake less often.

Cigarettes are also a stimulant and can interfere with sleep. Avoid cigarettes and your sleep quality will improve. Avoid eating a large meal right before bed. The digestive process can cause sleep troubles, even if you don't wake up at night. Eat lightly at night and you will sleep better.

Create A Sleep Routine

If you develop a healthy, regular sleep routine, your risk of insomnia will decrease. Follow the tips outlined below and your sleep quality will improve. Try to watch the sunrise and set every day, ideally, outside. When the sun rises and sets, your body adjusts whether it makes melatonin (a sleep hormone) or stimulating hormones to keep you awake. That is why you feel awake when the sun rises even if you have been awake all night. This simple change alone will make a difference in your sleep quality. Save your bedroom for sleep.

Don't watch TV or bring your phone into the bedroom at night. This not only distracts you from sleeping and keeps you awake longer, but the blue lights from electronics disrupt your sleep hormones and make it harder to get a good night's rest. Keep your room cool and comfortable to promote healthy sleep. Make sure your mattress is soft enough or hard enough to keep you from feeling sore in the morning.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Your diet can make a big difference in how you sleep. Eating a diet filled with junk food will make it harder for you to sleep because your body has to work harder to digest your food.

Exercise Regularly

If you burn off energy in the day, you won't be as energetic at night. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day (outside if you can), and your sleep will improve.

Quality Sleep Important for Heart Health

Getting a good night's sleep is about more than simply preventing daytime irritability and promoting concentration. Over time, a lack of quality sleep will cause a variety of health problems, including weight gain and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. One of the best things you can do for your heart health and long-term health is to ensure you are sleeping well at night.





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