All those late nights could be doing a number on your heart. Here's what you need to know to keep your body healthy.

By Jenny Krane
Updated February 22, 2019

One in every four deaths in the United States is due to heart disease. Let that staggering statistic sink in. Although some factors of heart disease are genetic, other everyday habits can play a huge part in a person's risk. The most shocking factor, according to a recent study, isn't related to junk food or how many hours you put in at the gym every day—it's sleep.

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What Is Heart Disease?

Odds are you have someone in your life who has heart disease, but you may not know exactly what it is. Heart disease is the buildup of plaque in the arteries that narrows the paths of blood flow. Complications can include irregular heart rhythm and blood clots. This, in turn, can lead to a heart attack.

Sleep and Heart Disease

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep plays a huge part in how our body functions, affecting metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation. So while lack of sleep or restless sleep can hinder these processes, so can oversleeping. Experts recommend that adults get at least seven hours of sleep a night and that the sleep be restful to leave your body and mind feeling refreshed and alert.

Observing almost 4,000 participants over the age of 40, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology this month found that lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of plaque buildup in arteries and blood vessels. This just reinforces the importance of sleep and its relationship to heart disease.

Sleep Disorders

Besides pulling all-nighters and hitting the snooze button too many times in the morning, there are diagnosable sleep disorders that can keep you from getting your seven hours in. Insomnia makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. This disorder has been linked to high blood pressure and can lead to other conditions that affect heart health, like stress, lack of exercise, and poor diet.  One in ten adults may have long-lasting insomnia.

Do you wake up after eight hours of sleep and still feel exhausted? Talk to your doctor about sleep apnea—you could have it and not even realize. With sleep apnea, the airway gets blocked while you sleep and causes you to stop breathing for short amounts of time. The body gets less oxygen throughout the night and deals with disrupted sleep patterns. Many studies have found a relationship between having sleep apnea and the risk of developing heart disease.

How to Improve Sleep

If you have developed habits that result in too much or too little sleep every night, try to make simple lifestyle changes to help. Here are a few things to try:

  • Health experts recommend trying to stick to a regular sleep schedule—even on weekends.
  • Avoid artificial, blue light, like that from your phone or computer, before bed.
  • If your bladder wakes you up in the middle of the night, develop an earlier cut-off time for eating and drinking before bed.
  • Try a weighted blanket; they're proven to help restless sleepers.
  • Start wearing a sleep mask to block light that disrupts your circadian rhythm. Weighted masks work like acupressure therapy to help you relax.
  • Talk to your doctor about joining a sleep study. The real reason you're not sleeping well could surprise you.

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