January 26, 2022
Want to know the short answer to all things regarding sleep? Establish a consistent length of nightly sleep and you’ll be better off. It’s true - a few extra zzzzzs a night can do worlds of good when it comes to your health, and this is particularly true for your heart health.
Get those extra zzzzs in with a cat nap.
A recent landmark study from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (a division of the National Institute of Health), correlated heart health and sleep habits. This five-year study investigated the effects of irregular sleep patterns (defined as no regular bedtime or wakeup schedule) and the increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). They found that irregular sleep patterns resulted in nearly twice the likelihood of developing CVD when compared to regular sleepers. Researchers have not identified the exact biological mechanisms at play to cause this, but they have strong indications it’s connected to disrupting the body’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock that controls the sleep-wake cycle.
These findings that prove sleep deprivation is linked as a unique contributor to CVD in particular, as well as associated problems like heart attacks. Prior studies have also linked reduced sleep to increased risk of obesity and diabetes, which in turn can impact heart health.
These facts are one more reminder that a consistent and adequate amount of sleep is vital to a healthy, long life.
The next question for most people is: what is an appropriate amount of sleep nightly? How can I ensure a good night’s rest and boost my heart health?
The consensus on nightly sleep duration is seven to eight hours, with six being the bare minimum. Remember that taking naps doesn’t make up for the extended periods of rest nighttime sleep brings. If you find getting consistent sleep is hard, here are four suggestions to try:
1. Stick to a Schedule – Pick a goal time of when you plan to be in bed nightly, set an alarm to hold you to it, and follow through. Your body will build a rhythm around that process quickly. The more consistent you can become, the better. With time, even after a schedule disruption, your own biological clock or circadian rhythm will realign in a matter of days.
2. Cut Caffeine & Alcohol – Stay away from caffeine and alcohol at night or even the later afternoon. These can both cause disturbances to your nighttime sleep patterns. Caffeine can disrupt sleep for around six hours after consumption, so plan accordingly. Alcohol induces sleep quickly, but only brings you to slow-wave sleep rather than critical, restful REM sleep. REM is what you need for actual recovery. Additionally, as the alcohol wears off throughout the night, it disrupts sleep and causes most people to experience wake ups.
3. Cut Screen Time – More and more studies are being done about blue light from screens and its negative effects on sleep patterns. Try keeping regular lights on in your home if you look at a screen at nighttime, or stop screen use by a certain time before bed.
4. Exercise – Increasing daily activity or performing consistent exercise will promote better resting heart rate, general heart health, and countless other benefits to promote better sleep.
These are just a handful of the steps you can take to increase your body’s ability to have restful sleep every night. Taking the time to sleep will only benefit you in the long term.