Sleep and Heart Disease

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on March 07, 2022
3 min read

More than a third of American adults don't get enough healthy sleep. It not only makes you feel tired, but it can affect your heart.

There are several ways that not enough rest can cause problems for your ticker.

When you're short on sleep, it can cause your body to handle day-to-day things in a way that can lead to heart disease:

Stress. Not enough rest can make you edgy. Stress releases a hormone in your body called cortisol. Too much of it for long periods of time can raise your cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure. High levels of all of these can make heart disease more likely.

Poor eating choices. Research shows that when you’re robbed of shut-eye, you're more likely to crave junk food full of salt, sugar, and fat. Too much of any of those things is bad for your heart.

Weight gain. Sleep loss slows down your metabolism -- how your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. When your metabolism is slow, you have trouble losing weight. What's more, you don’t feel like exercising. Both of these things can contribute to obesity, which can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease.

Serious sleep conditions can also raise your chances of high blood pressure and heart disease:

Sleep apnea. This causes a block in your airway and slows or stops your breathing while you sleep. Your blood oxygen levels also drop suddenly. When this happens, your blood pressure goes up. Sleep apnea also keeps you from getting enough restful sleep. That raises your chances of getting things like high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and stroke.

Insomnia. This is when you have trouble falling or staying asleep. Half of all people get it from time to time. About 10% of people have long-term insomnia. If you have it, you feel tired, can’t concentrate, and are moody and irritable. There’s also a link between insomnia, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Researchers aren’t sure, but they think that when you lose sleep, you get a spike in certain proteins connected to heart disease.

There are things you could do to help you rest easier at night:

Set a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

Exercise. You can take a walk in the morning or around lunch. Avoid working out within a few hours of bedtime. It might keep you from getting the sleep you need.

Create a relaxing sleep space. Make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark. Turning off devices that create blue light, like smartphones and tablets, can help.

Watch what you eat and drink. Try not to have anything too close to bedtime, especially caffeine, alcohol, and foods that are high in fat or sugar.

Manage stress. It may be easier said than done, but you can do it. Write down the worries you need to tackle each day before you go to bed. Meditation can also help.

If you often have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. They may be able to help you to figure out the cause of your sleepless nights. That could give you back that restful sleep you need.