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Sleep Hygiene Tip of the Week: Follow your heart

Infographic courtesy Carolinas HealthCare System.
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February is Heart Health Month. The relationship between sleep disorders and cardiovascular disease has been well established.

Sleep deprivation leads to a higher risk for cardiovascular disease no matter how young you are, and even for people who don’t smoke, are a healthy weight and exercise regularly.

Not getting enough sleep leads to imbalances in your overall health that present as high blood pressure, systemic inflammation, and insulin resistance―all of which create gateways to chronic disease.

Here are some heart-healthy sleep hygiene tips that may improve your ability to get the sleep you need so you can prevent heart disease.

Get enough sleep. Perhaps it’s too obvious, but it needs saying, as 1 out of 3 Americans is considered chronically sleep deprived. The National Sleep Foundation offers this video to illustrate why sleep is so crucial to heart health.

If you are over at 45 and you sleep fewer than six hours a night, you are twice as likely to have a heart attack than those who sleep six or more hours a night.

If you struggle to fall asleep or to maintain sleep, or if you wake up too early in the morning and can’t get back to sleep, you are advised to speak to a physician about investigating the root cause. Learning relaxation techniques and making improvements to your sleeping environment (making it darker, cooler, and more quiet) are just a few of ways you can use sleep hygiene to help with your sleep struggles.

Listen to your loved ones. If they are telling you that you gasp, choke, snore, cough, or struggle to breathe as you sleep, don’t delay in getting yourself checked out for a sleep-breathing disorder.

If you are certain you don’t snore, then having a sleep test will prove you right… but if you do snore, and your snoring is related to apnea or upper airway resistance, you will want to treat it.

Though it’s no cure for sleep-disordered breathing, sleeping on your left side can help reduce the severity of snoring or sleep apnea as well as make less work for your heart.

Check your medications with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure they don’t depress your breathing functions at night, as well.

Get your exercise. It not only improves your heart health, but it can lead to healthy muscle tone in the upper airway, a stronger respiratory system, and positive support to your circadian rhythms. Exercising in the morning―outdoors, if possible―is especially good for nighttime sleeping habits.

Lose some weight. Obesity has been connected to all kinds of sleep problems, especially sleep-breathing disorders, insomnia, and sleep deprivation.

Weight loss relies on quality sleep at night. A well-practiced sleep schedule that gives you a minimum of 6 hours a night actually makes it easier to lose weight; adequate sleep prevents problems with chemical imbalances caused by sleep deprivation that lead to high-calorie cravings during the day. If you have ever eaten just to stay awake and find some energy, then you know the feeling of dealing with excessive daytime sleepiness or fatigue caused by poor sleep at night.

A heart healthy diet and regular exercise regimen, plus a devoted sleeping schedule, will go a long way toward removing those extra pounds. You’ll also feel more energized during the day, and your sleep at night will be deeper and more regenerative.

Time your meals sensibly. Eating late at night―especially heavy meals or foods high in fat or carbohydrates―can send your digestive system reeling. We are not meant to eat large meals late into the evening; our liver, stomach, pancreas, and other organs are preparing to slow down for the not.

These late noshes, if they are feasts rather than snacks, can mess with your body in a number of ways. High fat foods can lead to indigestion or reflux disease, which will disrupt your ability to sleep. High carb foods might throw your glucose-insulin balance out of whack, creating the breeding grounds for insulin resistance. The digestive process itself will take much longer and could lead to daytime issues with constipation or diarrhea as a result.

Watch the intake of coffee and wine. Too much coffee, too late into the day, can wreak havoc with your ability to fall asleep, and caffeine can wreak havoc on a compromised heart. Too much alcohol, too late in the evening, can wreak havoc with your sleep architecture and will guarantee your sleep will be fragmented across the night as a result.

Separately, these are bad habits. Together, they spell disaster for both heart health and sleep hygiene.

Make a sleep schedule that matters. Going to bed at the same time every night is not just a challenge for schoolchildren. Adults really do much better if they turn out the lights at around the same time every night and rise at around the same time every morning. These habits support circadian rhythms, which allow your body to get adequate, high-quality sleep at night.

Your body requires these rhythms in order to fend off all kinds of health issues, including (but certainly not limited to) congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, and high blood pressure.

Try to avoid too many late nights in a row, and make it a goal to avoid hitting the snooze button. Staying in bed well past the 8-hour mark can also pose hazards to your health and well being.

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