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Lack of sleep and your heart

Bryn Mawr Hospital January 13, 2016 General Wellness

When your to-do list is full of items that can’t wait until tomorrow, sleep is usually the first thing to go. After all, who has time when there are so many other things to accomplish?

But a growing amount of research points to the fact that putting sleep at the bottom of your list could lead to more than just a drowsy morning. It could also lead to health risks later in life, including heart disease.

“Lack of sleep is not a direct link to heart disease, but it does increase your risk factors,” explains Catherine Riley, MD, pulmonologist and director of sleep medicine at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

The risks of too little sleep

As sleepless nights add up, so does the harm to your heart. Chronic sleep deprivation or insomnia can lead to high blood pressure, increased coronary artery calcification, and a slower metabolism, which can mean difficulty losing weight. Studies have also linked not enough sleep to issues like diabetes and depression. Combined, these risk factors can be significant contributors to heart disease risk.

What makes this information especially alarming, says Dr. Riley, is that many adults fall into poor sleeping habits at a young age.

“Busy personal lives and careers make it easy for people to think that sleep is a luxury, and get used to the idea that it’s not something that is essential for our health. But the longer that we allow our sleep suffer, the longer we allow our health to suffer,” she says.

How to get the best sleep

To ensure that you’re getting the best sleep and reducing your heart disease risk factors, aim for six to eight hours of shut-eye per night. Of course, it’s not just quantity that matters; it’s quality, too.

“Some sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, can put your heart at risk by interrupting your breathing. If you’re getting eight hours, but it’s not restful, you won’t be doing your heart any favors,” explains Dr. Riley.

To ensure you’re sleeping soundly, provide yourself with the best environment possible. Check out our tips for creating a healthy sleep environment.

If you or your partner catch yourself snoring in the middle of the night or your breathing is interrupted, talk to your doctor about a sleep test. You could be affected by a sleep disorder, and an appointment with a specialist can help you identify treatment options.

Still struggling to fall or stay asleep? Main Line Health offers several Sleep Center locations to provide you with diagnosis and treatment for a variety of sleep disorders. Make an appointment with a sleep medicine specialist today.