How Sleep Affects Mind, Body, and Heart Health
S. Raquel Ramos PhD, MBA, MSN, RN – Yale University; Allison Gaffey PhD – Yale University, VA Connecticut Health System; Saqib Rabbani PhD, MPhil, BDS – University of Health Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan Baram Kang MSN, RN – Yale University; Terika McCall PhD, MPH, MBA – Yale University
Recently, there’s been a growing focus on the importance of sleep for heart health. Recommendations suggest that we need 7 to 9 hours each night. In this article, we’ll explore the effects of sleep on heart health and psychological health and provide tips for starting a heart-healthy sleep routine.
How Does Irregular Sleep Affect My Heart and Psychological Health?
Sleep quality and quantity (the number of hours a person sleeps each night) can positively or negatively impact health. Poor sleep quality or quantity can cause many adverse effects:
- High blood pressure: Poor sleep doesn’t allow your heart rate or breathing to slow down when it’s supposed to, which is important to lower blood pressure or to keep it normal.
- Diabetes: Poor sleep affects how your body lowers high sugar levels in the blood
- Obesity: Poor sleep affects your hormones that control appetite and metabolism.
- High Cholesterol: Poor sleep may affect how your liver processes fats in food.
- Too little sleep = increases triglyceride and LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels.
- Obstructive sleep apnea or snoring = lowers HDL, or “good” cholesterol.
- Worse Brain Health: Poor sleep hurts your memory and ability to learn.
- Depression: Poor sleep affects chemical signals in your brain that impact your mood.
- Stress & Anxiety: Poor sleep increases your body’s reaction to stressful situations
What Are the Benefits of Sleep?
- Allows our bodies to rest so our cells and muscles can re-energize.
- Helps with healing, even if it's a paper cut!
- Strengthens the immune system and gives our bodies a strong defense against germs that can cause illness.
- Helps us think clearly, make good decisions, and improves mood.
Challenges to Good Sleep Health
Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the conditions in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age. They affect health risk and quality-of-life. SDOH influence sleep in many ways and poor sleep may lead to sleep health disparities, which are differences between groups of people in at least one type of healthy sleep pattern (duration, timing, quality).
These disparities can be due to:
- Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, level of education, or income level
- Unstable housing or overcrowded living situations
- Lack of childcare or caregivers
How much sleep do I need?
Adults should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day; children 5 and younger need 10 to 16 hours total (that includes nap time); kids 6 to 12 need 9 to 12 hours; and teens 13 to 18 need 8 to 10 hours.
Sleep Health Tips and Techniques
1. Value Your Rest: Sleep is healthy for your mind, body, and heart!
2. Prioritize Your Sleep: For adults, set a goal to be in bed by 10pm. Younger children should be in bed by 7:30-8pm.
- Make sure your sleep area is dark, quiet and cool.
- Right before bed, take a hot bath or drink a refreshing iced beverage.
- Try a white noise machine, wear a sleep mask, and try a meditation practice.
3. Personalize Your Sleep Schedule: Figure out what sleep schedule works best for you (early bird or a night owl) and stick to it.
4. Trust the Process: Going to sleep at the same time each night creates healthy sleep patterns in your body. Trust that you CAN create a healthy sleep pattern.
- If you’re lying awake unable to sleep, don't force it. Get up and do something relaxing that doesn’t involve looking at a screen. Return to bed when you feel sleepy.
5. Protect Your Sleep Health: Avoid caffeine (coffee, soda, energy drinks), alcohol, heavy meals, screen use (TV, tablet, cell phone), and serious conversations (finances, relationship issues, work problems) right before bedtime. These factors can make tough to prepare your mind and body to go to sleep
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine
- National Sleep Foundation
- National Center on Sleep Disorders Research
"How Sleep Affects Mind, Body and Heart Health" is fourth in a series of five articles on how heart health and mental health are related.
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