Dr. Thomas L. Stoughton

Sleep. Everyone needs it. And when it comes to heart health, it is just as important as exercise and eating right.

People who do not get enough sleep are at a high risk for heart disease regardless of their age, weight, smoking and exercise habits. Getting good quality sleep is also essential if you want to lower your risk for heart disease.

Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night. Adults who sleep less than seven hours are more likely to have health problems that raise their risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. These health problems include:

» High blood pressure: During normal sleep, a person’s blood pressure will go down. Sleep problems mean the pressure never has an opportunity to naturally lower but stays elevated for an extended period. High blood pressure is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

» Type 2 diabetes: Diabetes is a disease that causes sugar to build up in the blood, a condition that can damage blood vessels. Studies indicate that getting enough good sleep may help improve blood sugar control.

» Obesity: A lack of sleep affects a part of the brain that controls hunger, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. This is often true for children who need more sleep.

People who are sleep deprived have slower metabolisms and more difficulty losing weight. They also are likely to have a lack of interest in exercising or participating in other healthy habits that are essential for a healthy heart.

Many studies over the years have shown the relationship between sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease. Sleep apnea will cause someone to wake up frequently throughout the night from a blocked airway. This causes them to stop breathing for short amounts of time. Because of this constant waking, they do not have long deep periods of rest. Without deep sleep, the body cannot achieve extended phases in which the heart rate and blood pressure are lowered.

Over time, this can lead to higher blood pressure during the day and a greater chance of heart disease. Anyone with a concern that they might have sleep apnea should speak to their physician about a sleep study.

To achieve better sleep:

» Stick to a schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning.

» Move. Get physical activity during the day.

» Avoid artificial light. Especially within a few hours of bedtime.

» Don’t eat or drink within a few hours of bedtime. Particularly avoid alcohol, fatty or sugary foods.

» Chill. Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.

The positive effects of sleep do not just pertain to your heart health. Getting a good night’s rest helps your stress hormones, immune system and mental status.

We all occasionally have a bad night when it comes to sleep and that is OK. But if it becomes a regular habit, be sure and talk to your primary care physician before it affects your overall health.

Dr. Thomas Stoughton cares for patients with McLeod Cardiology Associates in Florence. The physicians of McLeod Cardiology Associates can help you manage your heart-related conditions. Appointments can be made by calling 843-667-1891.

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