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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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The Heartbreak of Insomnia: Sleep and Heart Health

Heart-Shaped Dreamcatcher
As a cardiologist, I am all too well acquainted with sleep deprivation, so a recent spate of research on the effects of sleep on heart health has been an eye-opener for me. It’s a no-brainer that lack of sleep can make you less alert, but did you know that it may also lead to high blood pressure, cholesterol buildup in the heart, and irregular heartbeats?  As a consequence, the risk of heart attacks and strokes is higher when we are chronically deprived of sleep. Lack of sleep and poor quality sleep can also contribute to obesity, diabetes, and even the common cold.

When we’re sleepy, we tend to crave food that gives us an instant boost of energy. Unfortunate, this often means high fat, high sugar goodies. Once the initial energy surge wears off a few hours later, we’re guaranteed to feel even more sluggish and unmotivated, setting ourselves up for a vicious and very unhealthy cycle.

Although there may be a genetically gifted few who can thrive on three to four hours of sleep, most of us do best with about seven hours to eight hours of shut-eye. On the flip side, it is possible to get too much sleep. According to a study conducted by Dr. Jiu-Chiuan Chen and associates at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, people who routinely get more than nine hours of sleep have an even higher risk for stroke than those who get less than six hours each night.

What’s the solution? First, if you snore heavily or stop breathing at night, see your doctor to get tested for sleep apnea, a common condition that can be easily diagnosed and readily treated. Although there is no guaranteed prescription for a good night’s sleep, there are some simple and healthy habits you can develop that will help. Avoid all caffeine after about 4 p.m., since caffeine stays in our systems for at least six hours. People who exercise regularly have deeper, more restorative sleep. But since exercise makes us feel peppier, it’s best to avoid exercising within a couple of hours of bedtime. Be careful with alcohol. It has some heart-healthy benefits, but if you imbibe too late in the evening, it may affect the quality of your sleep. And finally, create a relaxing ritual before bedtime. Turn off the TV, turn down the lights, read something light or write in your journal, and allow yourself to ease into slumber.

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Tags: Alcohol and the Heart , Exercise , Risk Factors for Heart Disease

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.