When it comes to heart health, we know the many benefits of exercise and a healthy diet. Did you know that getting plenty of sleep each night (7-8 hours) is just as important for a healthy heart? According to the Cleveland Clinic, those who suffer with chronic insomnia and sleep apnea have a shorter life expectancy than those who sleep the optimal amount which is 7-8 hours.

When we do not get plenty of sleep (less than 6 hours), we become at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, high blood sugar (which leads to diabetes), increased inflammation in the body, increased risk for a stroke and obesity. How does a lack of sleep impact the heart? Each time a person logs in less than 6 hours of sleep, calcium begins to build in the heart arteries. This is due to inflammation in the body which poor sleep triggers. This calcium leads to plaques which puts a person at a greater risk for a heart attack. Sleep is crucial as it is a time the heart can relax. During sleep, blood pressure and heart rate go down. But when sleep doesn’t happen, the heart rate stays elevated.

Short sleep durations also impact hormones like ghrelin and leptin which eventually impact the waistline and thus the heart. Ghrelin increases your appetite where leptin makes you feel satiated. These hormones do not work properly when sleep duration is low. This causes a person to overeat and typically crave sugars and comfort food. Think back to a time you didn’t get enough sleep. How was your appetite? Did you grab sugary snacks to stay awake? I know for me personally, I have a hard time feeling full in the afternoons and end up snacking the whole day. These extra calories can add up causing weight gain around the middle putting extra strain on the heart. The more weight gained the risk of developing sleep issues like apnea increase. It can be a vicious cycle.

As you can see, the amount of sleep you get each night has a great impact on your heart. If you are someone who struggles with sleep, there is hope. First, seek a doctor’s guidance to make sure you are not missing any nutrients or do not have sleep apnea. Second, there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make and this is where the guidance of a health coach comes in. If you would like more information, schedule a free consult. For more information on how the heart is impacted by sleep, head to the website ofAmerican Heart Association, Cleveland Clinic or The Sleep Foundation.