For years doctors have known about the risk factors associated with heart disease, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and family history. But studies are bringing to light other, less obvious risk factors contributing to heart disease, including lack of sleep.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, not getting enough sleep and sleep apnea both have been linked to heart disease. Poor sleep, the clinic noted, can contribute to obesity, hypertension and diabetes—all recognized risk factors for heart disease.
Those who suffer from sleep apnea, meanwhile, are at higher risk for high blood pressure, arrhythmia, cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart failure.
Sleep apnea’s connection to heart disease is more distinct: Dr. Virend K. Somers, professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., noted in an article for the National Sleep Foundation that there is a definite connection between hypertension and sleep apnea. “Whether sleep apnea actually causes heart disease is still unclear, but we do know that if you have sleep apnea today, the chance that you will develop hypertension in the future increases significantly.”
When it comes to poor sleep and heart disease, however, it may be a case of the tail wagging the dog (or, at least, the dog chasing its tail). “Inadequate sleep appears to contribute to cardiovascular disease. And cardiovascular disease may disturb your sleep. This could become an exhausting, vicious cycle if you ignore your sleep problems,” noted an article on the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions website.
So what can a person do to stop the cycle? Practice heart healthy habits, such as exercising regularly, eating right (including lots of colorful fruits and vegetables) and effectively managing stress—doing so can help lower the risk of heart disease. And, obviously, sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, so try to get seven to nine hours of shut-eye a night.
If you have a heart-related health condition, talk to your doctor about any sleep issues you may be having. Your doctor can offer tips on sleeping better and prescribe treatment such as a CPAP machine, if necessary.