There’s more to maintaining a healthy heart than just eating right and exercising regularly. While these practices play an important role in both cardiovascular and overall health and well-being, getting a good night’s sleep is also key.
“Getting a good night’s sleep every night is vital to cardiovascular health,” said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Sc.M., FAHA, immediate past president of the American Heart Association and one of the world’s most highly regarded experts in cardiovascular disease prevention and epidemiology. “Adults should aim for an average of 7-9 hours, and babies and kids need more depending on their age.”
However, more than 1 in 3 adults in the United States are not getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition to increasing risk for cardiovascular conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack and stroke, lack of sleep may also put people at risk of depression, cognitive decline, diabetes and obesity.
While high blood pressure—a known risk factor of cardiovascular disease and the number one cause of death worldwide—can run in families, it is more common in Black adults (56%) than in white adults (48%), Asian adults (46%) or Hispanic adults (39%). Healthy lifestyle behaviors, including sleep, can help prevent the condition.
“We know that people who get adequate sleep manage other health factors better as well, such as weight, blood sugar and blood pressure,” Lloyd-Jones said. “The American Heart Association added sleep to the list of factors that support optimal cardiovascular health. We call these Life’s Essential 8, and they include: eating a healthy diet, not smoking or vaping, being physically active and getting adequate sleep along with controlling your blood pressure and maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol and lipids, healthy blood sugar levels and a healthy weight.”
Some other practices to improve sleep health that can impact heart health include:
Take Note of Current Sleep Habits
Keeping a sleep diary to help track your sleep patterns and habits can make it easier to identify factors that may be helping—or hurting—your sleep quality. Monitor what time you go to bed, what time you wake up in the morning, how many times you woke up during the night, how you felt when you woke up and any variables, such as changes to your routine or sleeping arrangements. Having documentation over the course of several weeks can help you identify necessary changes.
Avoid Food and Beverage Close to Bedtime
It can be more difficult to fall asleep if you’re still digesting dinner. To help reduce sleep disruptions caused by food, avoid late dinners and minimize fatty and spicy foods. Similarly, keep an eye on caffeine intake and avoid it later in the day when it can be a barrier to falling asleep.
Physical activity during the day can have a noticeable impact on overall health and wellness but can also make it easier to sleep at night as it can initiate changes in energy use and body temperature. However, exercising too close to bedtime may hinder your body’s ability to settle. Aim to have your workout complete at least four hours before you plan to head to bed.
Establish a Bedtime Routine
Getting a good night’s rest often requires getting into a routine. Start by setting an alarm to indicate it’s time to start winding down. Rather than heading straight to bed, take time to create a to-do list for the following day and knock out a few small chores. Then consider implementing a calming activity like meditating, journaling or reading (not on a tablet or smartphone) before drifting off to sleep. Also, set an alarm to wake each morning—even on weekends—and avoid hitting the snooze button to keep your biological rhythms synced.
Create a Comfortable Sleep Space
The ideal space for sleeping is dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature, typically around 65 degrees depending on the individual. Use room-darkening curtains or a sleep mask to block light and ear plugs, a fan or a white noise machine to help drown out distracting noises. Remember, using your bed only for sleep and sex can help establish a strong mental association between your bed and sleep.
Avoid Tech Before Bed
The bright light of televisions, computers and smartphones can mess with your Circadian rhythm and keep you alert when you should be winding down. Try logging off electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime and use the “do not disturb” function to avoid waking up to your phone throughout the night. Better yet, charge devices away from your bed or in another room entirely.
For more tips on heart health and taking control of your blood pressure, visit heart.org.