Sleeping in May Not Be Doing Your Heart Any Favors

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Healthy sleep habits can help lead to a healthier heart. Perhaps you find yourself getting more sleep than usual these days, or maybe you’re a night owl and like to make up for lost sleep on the weekends. Either way, studies show your sleep habits are as important as ever.

Before you plan on playing catch up over the weekend, know that experts are saying there could be a correlation between binge sleeping on the weekend and poor cardiovascular health.

Researchers presented their findings at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in November 2017, reporting that of the 21,000 older female health care professionals they studied, those who spent two or more hours catching up on sleep over the weekend were more likely to have poor cardiovascular health. The findings were consistent for all study participants, regardless of income, education and stress levels, which is troubling because women are living longer but also dealing with sleep problems more than men.

Experts say it’s best to sleep at least seven hours a night and keep consistent sleep and waking times, regardless of whether it’s the weekend or not. When we don’t get enough sleep, levels of our stress hormone cortisol, inflammation and “fight or flight” hormones get off track, which can lead to weight gain, elevated blood pressure and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately for those who burn the midnight oil, sleep binging on the weekend doesn’t counteract these consequences.

As many of us know, getting enough sleep can be easier said than done. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 percent of adults in the United States report getting less than seven hours of sleep in an average 24-hour period. In addition, as many as 23 percent only sleep six hours per night, and 12 percent get only five hours of shuteye per night.

How much sleep do we really need? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society have determined that adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

For some people, it’s not that they don’t want to get enough sleep, but that they simply cannot. The American Sleep Association (ASA) reports that between 50 and 70 million adults in the United States have a sleep disorder, which is a medical disorder that affects sleeping and waking patterns. Close to 38 percent of Americans reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the preceding month, with 4.7 percent admitting to falling asleep while driving once or more in the same period.

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with approximately 30 percent of adults experiencing short-term issues and 10 percent reporting chronic insomnia. Additionally, 25 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea, affecting 24 to 31 percent of men and nine to 21 percent of women.

Our lack of sleep isn’t just affecting us in obvious ways, as researchers from the AHA’s aforementioned study report that around one-third of people with acute coronary syndromes (including heart attacks and other sudden blockages) also struggle with sleep disturbances.

Additionally, an AHA scientific statement from 2016 explains that people with poor sleep practices (either getting too much or not enough) or those with sleep disorders are at higher risk for elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

To form healthier sleep habits and protect your heart, follow the AASM’s recommendations:

  • Practice consistency in your sleep schedule by rising at the same time every day of the week.
  • Set a bedtime that will allow for at least seven hours of sleep each night.
  • Don’t go to bed unless you’re sleepy, and get up if you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes.
  • Create a quiet and relaxing space in your bedroom, establish calming bedtime rituals, and only use your bed for sleep and sex.
  • Limit light exposure.
  • Don’t eat a large meal too close to bedtime.
  • Practice healthy eating habits, and exercise regularly.
  • Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening.
  • Avoid alcohol before bedtime and reduce all fluid intake.

If you struggle to maintain healthy sleep habits and are at risk for cardiovascular issues, talk to your doctor about ways you can get back on track. To find a heart and vascular specialist near you, visit

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