Sleep and The Heart: How Are They Connected?

While living a healthy lifestyle is a major component in keeping a strong, healthy heart, it isn’t the only one. Did you know that a good night’s rest is just as beneficial to your heart health? People who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, which is why professionals recommend eight hours of sleep at night.

The heart is directly impacted when you are not getting an adequate amount of sleep. Depending on your specific sleep issue, there are various preventive measures you can take to regulate your sleep schedule. In continuation of our American Heart Month celebration, we spoke with the director of sleep medicine for Oklahoma Heart Institute at Hillcrest Medical Center, Dr. Michael Newnam, for some insight on the relationship between sleep and heart health.

“One of the biggest sleep issues we deal with is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which is a major contributor to heart disease,” stated Dr. Newnam. “In OSA, a person’s airway becomes progressively narrowed during sleep which causes snoring and decreased oxygen as well as pauses in breathing. When oxygen drops, the body senses the emergency making one alert enough to start breathing again. The body also starts overproducing adrenaline, which in turn, raises both blood pressure and heart rate. As you can imagine, this adds additional stress on the already oxygen-deprived heart,” explained Dr. Newnam. “As a result, high blood pressure develops as well as heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. There are also several medical conditions that have a very high association with OSA, such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, stroke and heart failure. If a patient has one of these conditions, screening for OSA is very important.”

When it comes to other sleep issues, there are signs that indicate a problem. “Common signs of sleep apnea are snoring, interrupted sleep, daytime sleepiness, choking and gasping during the night and witnessed pauses in breathing noted by the bed partner,” explained Dr. Newnam.

A consistent sleep cycle is beneficial for many reasons, including heart health. “Getting enough sleep in general is important for good heart health,” said Dr. Newnam. “We know that getting too little sleep increases the risk of high blood pressure and even premature death.”

If you are currently experiencing sleep issues, here are some helpful tips shared by Dr. Newnam.

- Avoid caffeine for at least six hours prior to your normal bedtime.
- Go easy on the snooze button, and try to wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
- Exercise regularly, but watch your timing. Too much vigorous activity in the evening may cause sleep problems.
- Take a warm bath a couple hours before bed to relax.
- Nix the nightcap as alcoholic drinks may actually cause you to wake up more frequently during the night.
- Avoid heavy, spicy or high-sugar foods before bed.


To learn more about sleep care services at Oklahoma Heart Institute, please call (918-747-5337 (18-74 SLEEP).