You wake up after another night of tossing and turning. ‘It’s all right,’ you tell yourself. ‘Just get a cup or two of coffee, and you’ll be fine.’ For a little while, that may be true. But like a guest who outstays their welcome far longer than expected, poor sleep can start to drag itself through your entire life.
Before long, you might be noticing unfortunate effects that you didn’t even realize were effects, like heart problems. Once you start to make the connection between poor sleep and heart disease, you know you need to take steps to address the issue for good.
What Does It Mean to Get Poor Sleep?
It’s easy to pass off a bad night of sleep as something that happens to most adults. This does not mean it is healthy, especially not for the long-term. If you sleep a full 7-9 hours and usually wake refreshed, you may not have poor sleep. The occasional difficulty staying asleep might not be a big deal, either. However, if you find that you’re dragging yourself out of bed several times a week, you should start to pay attention. Consider these common symptoms of a poor sleep dynamic:
- Difficulty waking up, even at the regular time
- Sense that sleep isn’t providing you adequate rest
- Sluggishness during the day
- Troubles with work or home responsibilities
- Increasing dependence on caffeine for alertness
People tend to think of insomnia as trouble getting to sleep. For many people, sleep difficulties surround staying asleep. When your sleep is constantly interrupted for one reason or another, you won’t be able to reach those deeper stages of sleep needed to restore you.
What Causes Poor Sleep?
There are plenty of reasons you might be getting lousy sleep, and they can be broadly classified into two groups: external and internal. External causes relate to factors around you, including:
- Partner who snores
- Crying baby
- Loud noises outside
- Bright or flashing lights
- Uncomfortable sleeping environment
You may be able to manage some of these factors, but it depends on how much control you have over them. Internal causes of insomnia may be within your grasp, including:
- Medications that affect alertness or sleep cycles
- Eating heavy foods within an hour or two of bedtime
- Lack of exercise
- Smoking in the evening
- Sleep movement disorders like Restless Legs Syndrome
When you’re not getting good sleep on a consistent basis, it is important to think about what may be causing it. Some of these are fairly easy to identify. If you go through your day and don’t find obvious behaviors that you can correct, you may need to consult a doctor for an evaluation.
Understanding Sleep’s Effect on the Heart
Although everyone sleeps a little differently, there’s a certain progression people should pass through for good rest. In an ideal environment with nothing to interrupt it, most adults will go through four sleep stages in 90-120 minutes. These stages allow the body to rest and heal from the activity of the day. Most people experience a minor drop in their blood pressure as a result of the relaxation. That is, of course, excepting people who keep getting pulled out of sleep.
The trope of the sleep-deprived mother with a newborn is almost a cliché in our culture, but for many people, that level of sleep deprivation doesn’t have an end date. You can easily imagine how days or weeks of interrupted rest can make it more difficult to make decisions, get through the day or drive safely. Once you start reaching months and years, you may begin to notice a lot of problems that accumulate over time. Specifically, poor sleep risks a number of negative effects on heart health.
Correlation Between Poor Sleep and Heart Disease
There’s a reason researchers are putting so much effort into understanding the causes of cardiovascular disease. It’s the #1 killer of American men and women, claiming about 835,000 lives each year. Approximately 92 million American adults live with this condition. Heart disease can be a cumulative condition that gets worse the longer it goes untreated. Experts are finding a strong correlation between poor sleep and certain kinds of heart disease.
In one study, researchers tested mice by waking them frequently during their typical sleep period. They found that the mice who had the sleep interruption were more likely to have arteries clogged with plaque. In humans, this condition is known as atherosclerosis. This association is not merely connected to mice. Another study on middle-aged adults in Spain showed that people who get poor sleep or sleep less than six hours a night are the more likely to have a worse case of atherosclerosis. With such a strong correlation, it’s hard to deny how much trouble consistently bad sleep patterns can wreak on your heart.
Sleep Medications and Heart Health
These studies are also starting to yield some important questions about the way that adults handle sleeplessness. When you have a short-term sleeping problem, it is quite common to try some one-off methods to guarantee you a good night of rest. There are a variety of sleep medications, over-the-counter and by prescription, that counteract many of the causes of insomnia. If you’re at risk for heart disease, though, you should understand how they work before you take them.
For example, researchers suspect that certain drugs to treat the sleeping-waking cycle may lead to clogged arteries as a side effect. When they injected the mice with a protein-like molecule called hypocretin, the mice with poor sleep didn’t develop as much plaque in their arteries. Hypocretin is naturally occurring in the body and promotes wakefulness. People who have narcolepsy don’t produce enough of it. Some drugs to treat insomnia, such as Suvorexant, block hypocretin in the body so that people can get better sleep. Although the researchers indicated that this result requires further study, they recommended that anyone using similar medications keep an eye on their heart health.
The Importance of a Good Night Sleep
All this research points to a very important conclusion: Good sleep is important. It may seem like just pushing through is the best way to manage. But by pretending that you have no problem with poor sleep, you aren’t just setting yourself for a bad day. A bad night of sleep on a regular basis isn’t just making it harder to concentrate at work. It could be actively killing you or placing you on a path to a very different life in the future–one full of medication regimens and procedures designed to prolong your life.
Instead, imagine what happens if you finally take your sleep quality under your active control. When you ensure a better night of sleep, you feel better when you wake up. You find that you have more energy during the day to attend to important matters, whether they are related to work, leisure or family. If you are at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke, ensuring that you manage the causes of poor sleep could help you prevent those problems from getting worse.
Get Better Sleep to Improve Heart Health
You know that a good night’s sleep can make such a difference in your health, now and in the future. The trick is to figure out how to get it. Start with a few simple steps, such as:
- minimizing noise near your bedroom
- avoiding the use of blue light at night, since it makes you more alert
- reducing alcohol consumption and quit smoking
- scheduling meals to allow you time to digest before sleep
If these aren’t enough to solve the problem, you might need help from a sleep medicine expert. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a common cause of poor sleep, and as many as 20% of adults have it. Fortunately, there are many ways to treat this condition. If you’re waking up due to an inability to breathe fully, a sleep apnea mouthpiece might be all you need to hold open your airways.
Poor sleep and heart disease go hand in hand, but they don’t have to be your problem. Investigate the causes and see if you might benefit from professional assistance. To learn how Premier Sleep Associates can help you get better rest, schedule an appointment or call us at (425) 698-1732.