Alto / Blog / Health

How Sleep Affects Heart Health & Tips for Better Sleep

Woman sleeping

If you’ve ever slept less than the CDC-recommended minimum of seven hours per night, you may have experienced short-term effects of sleep deprivation like forgetfulness, irritability, and an inability to focus. A consistent lack of sleep can also affect your physical and mental health in the long term. And just like diet choices and frequency of physical activity, your sleep habits are linked to your risk for heart disease.

Below, we explain more about how sleep affects heart health and what you can do to improve your sleep hygiene.

Why it’s important to get enough rest

Sleep allows your body to recharge. As you enter a state of deep sleep, your heart rate slows down and your blood pressure drops. These physical changes give your heart a chance to recover from how hard it works when you’re awake.

When you don’t spend enough time in uninterrupted deep sleep, your heart doesn’t get the opportunity to rest. Research has found that chronic sleep deprivation and sleep disorders can contribute to numerous cardiovascular health issues including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a greater risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Cardiovascular health issues related to sleep

Over time, many sleepless nights can lead to higher baseline blood pressure levels during the day. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is among the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke. If you experience consistent stress or if you have other risk factors for high blood pressure, you may be more likely to develop high blood pressure as a result of sleep deprivation.

Poor sleep may also contribute to these cardiovascular health issues:

Coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease occurs when cholesterol and other fatty material (collectively referred to as plaque) builds up in your arteries, making it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. This accumulation of plaque is also called atherosclerosis.

Some research has found that a lack of sleep may contribute to atherosclerosis. This is partially due to the connection between sleep deprivation and hypertension, as high blood pressure strains your arteries. In addition, poor sleep can trigger chronic inflammation over time, which also contributes to the accumulation of plaque and the hardening of your arteries.

Heart Attack

Chronic sleep deprivation may also increase your risk for a heart attack. One research study found that people who slept less than six hours per night had a 20% higher risk of a heart attack in comparison to those who got more sleep.

While your heart slows down when you are in a state of deep sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure can increase if you wake up suddenly. Over time, consistent sleep disruptions can put greater stress on your heart and contribute to your overall heart attack risk.

Stroke

A stroke is a cardiac event in which blood flow to your brain is interrupted, causing brain cells to die. Because sleep deprivation can drive high blood pressure and plaque accumulation in your arteries — two leading risk factors for strokes — there is also a correlation between a lack of sleep and your risk of having a stroke.

Sleep problems and type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which your body’s cells become resistant to insulin, and your pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to regulate levels of blood glucose. It develops gradually due to a mix of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

Research has linked poor sleep to prediabetes, a health condition defined primarily by blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but below the official range for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. If left untreated, prediabetes can progress into type 2 diabetes and lead to health complications in the long term, including cardiovascular issues.

If you already have diabetes, a lack of sleep or frequently interrupted sleep may also impact blood sugar management.

Common sleep problems

There are two primary sleep problems that can impact your long-term cardiovascular health: sleep apnea and insomnia.

Sleep apnea is a disorder in which your airway is blocked during sleep, which causes you to stop breathing for short periods of time. It affects your oxygen levels while sleeping and may increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

Insomnia is when you have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep. Many individuals have experienced insomnia in the short-term, and the CDC estimates that 1 in 10 U.S. adults may experience chronic insomnia.

What you can do for sleep problems

More than 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. report getting less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. The good news is there are steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene. Start with the following:

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, including weekends.
  • Avoid use of electronic devices close to your bedtime.
  • Get plenty of natural light and stay physically active during the day, but avoid exercising close to bedtime.
  • Avoid consuming food or beverages close to bedtime, particularly caffeine, alcohol, and high-sugar or high-fat foods.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and quiet and maintain a comfortable temperature. 

Read our previous blog for strategies that can help you avoid stress-related sleep problems..

If you think you may have a sleep disorder, you should also consult with your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment, in addition to taking the actions above.

Your partner in health

At Alto, we’re committed to making it as simple as possible to protect your heart health and stay on top of cholesterol-lowering or blood pressure management medications.  We will work with your doctor, your insurance (if applicable), and any third party savings programs that you may qualify for to ensure your medications are as affordable as possible. And our team of pharmacists is available to chat whenever questions come up about side effects or how to take your medication properly

Reach out any time via text or phone at 1-800-874-5881 or in-app messaging.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.