Is lack of sleep taking a toll on your heart?
The answer to this, I am afraid, is a big YES.
Sleep is nature’s way of restarting your mind and body. It is the time when the body rests and heals. Lack of sleep or failure to enjoy a sound sleep—insomnia—can become a major challenge for maintaining the wellbeing of the body.
Modern lifestyle and certain sleep disorders have decreased the sleep duration of people at an alarming rate, and this leads to the manifestation of various diseases including heart disorders.
Various researches suggest:
There is an increased risk of stroke and heart attack in people who have sleep problems—bad sleepers— as compared to those who follow a healthy sleep regimen—good sleepers.
Western society and modern lifestyle have reduced our sleeping hours as compared to the people of the last century. And epidemiological studies have linked this change in lifestyle with various cardiovascular diseases.
Around 25 percent of Americans suffer from acute insomnia every year.
Truly, insomnia is an epidemic of the modern age!
The idea that sleep deprivation and heart disorders coexist is gaining strength with the latest researches and studies. We are going to look into the details of the two to understand the underlying mechanism that leads to one condition and triggers the other.
Sleep deprivation is a multi-factorial disorder, often present as a chronic condition. It can last for a year or 20, which makes it a dynamic disorder that can cause different magnitudes of risks in different individuals.
Compromising sleep is linked with increased risk of clogged arteries, weakened heart, and consequently increases the rate of morbidity and mortality.
The Two Types of Insomnia
Bad sleepers can be acute or chronic. A study at the University of Pennsylvania explains the two types:
Acute insomnia means having problems falling asleep or staying asleep for three nights per week for around three consecutive months.
Chronic insomnia is characterized by the presence of lack of sleep for at least three nights a week for more than three consecutive months.
The good news is:
Around 75 percent of individuals with insomnia recover without developing chronic insomnia.
You Might be Wondering: What Causes Insomnia?
Well, mostly, there are three possible culprits:
What Triggers Heart Diseases in Sleep-Deprived Individuals?
Studies have narrowed down the underlying mechanisms linked with sleep deprivation that lead to the deterioration of cardiovascular health.
These include metabolic dysregulation, endocrine abnormalities (hormonal abnormalities), inflammation, and increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system.
Sleep deprivation can affect the levels of cytokines—a protein that fights infection and inflammation—in the body. These cytokines play an important role in the regulation of systematic inflammation.
Less sleep = less cytokines = increased inflammation + weakened immunity.
The bad news is that increased inflammation in the body can trigger high blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Age is an important factor:
Sleep deprivation is associated with heart diseases in an age-dependent manner.
Studies have shown that insomniac individuals belonging to the young age group (18-35) have a higher incident of stroke and heart disease as compared to insomniac individuals of advanced ages.
Interestingly, the cardiovascular damages of sleep deprivation are reduced in the elderly.
The molecular mechanism behind sleep deprivation and heart conditions
Recently, research found out that habitual short sleep duration of less than seven hours has detrimental effects on health. The primary reason behind this effect was the increased inflammatory burden and dysregulation of the endothelial system of the body.
Now, there are certain special types of nucleic acids known as the MicroRNAs (miRNAs), which play an important role in the regulation of health of heart and the vascular system.
Researchers have found that the levels of certain miRNA in the blood can be used as a sensitive biomarker of inflammation and cardiovascular function.
Getting into some more scientific details, it has been found that chronic sleep deprivation is linked with a visible reduction in the levels of certain microRNAs, including miR‐125a and miR‐126.
Apparently, dysregulation of miRNAs results in increased inflammation and endothelial dysfunction (heart disorders) linked with habitual sleep deprivation.
Lack Of Sleep & Heart Health: What Recent Research Says
Now, we will take a look at some recent studies related to lack of sleep and its effect on our heart.
A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine by Hsu and colleagues (2015) suggests that individuals who are diagnosed with insomnia have a greater risk of developing stroke and heart attack in a period of 10 years as compared to normal individuals without sleeping problems.
Similar Canivet and colleagues working at Lund University (2014), Sweden, have reported that prevalence of insomnia and related cardiovascular disease in men and women belonging to low socioeconomic status.
They found that a definitive link exists between patients of insomnia and cardiovascular diseases that is similar in both genders considering a poor lifestyle.
A study from the University of Chicago by King and colleagues suggested that shortened duration of sleep increases the process of coronary artery calcification—deposits of calcium in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. This can lead to an increase in the risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Recently, a study carried out by University of Arizona has put forward data that suggests that lack of sleep causes an increase in blood pressure. And continuous insomnia can lead to constant blood pressure surge that can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and death from cardiovascular disorders.
How to cope with sleep deprivation
Want to improve your sleep?
Well, here are some tips right from the experts—National Sleep Foundation— that will help you become a better sleeper and ware off your fatigue and brain fog caused by lack of sleep.
Certain medicines called sleep aids can help you sleep, talk to your healthcare professional about it.
Cognitive-behavioral interventions (CBT) for sleep disorders have proved to be highly effective.
This treatment is based on the following interventions and approaches:
○ Going to bed only when sleepy.
○ Limiting the activities in bed: no TV, laptops or cell phone)
○ Fixing time for sleep and waking up.
○ Relax your mind, cease your thoughts, and the most obvious, do not watch the clock!!
○ No naps in the day, no caffeine after noon.
○ Avoid ingesting food, alcohol or nicotine within 3 hours of sleep time.
○ Stay active, exercise so that you get tried.
○ Stay outdoors during the day and reduce the exposure to light as the bedtime approaches.
○ Use dim lights in your bedroom; make it cozy and comfortable.
Is too much sleep any good?
Too much and longer hours of sleep is also not recommended. Research shows that long hours of sleep have damaging effects on the brain and body functions.
So, I suggest you stick to 7 to 9 hours of sleeping regimen and avoid any kind of experimentation with this routine.
Believe me, it will keep you active and your heart healthy. And more importantly, if you won’t sleep, how can you dream?? :)