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Why sleep is important to look after your heart health

Do you find it difficult to get a good night's sleep? You're not alone. 1 in 5 people in the UK aren't getting enough sleep and around half of the UK population have stress-induced issues with sleep.

Sleep often gets overlooked when it comes to the subject of health, with diet and exercise often being the focus. Whilst they are essential for general health, consistent, quality sleep is also a key part of a healthy lifestyle.

But did you know that sleep plays a huge factor in heart health too? A one-off restless night isn't a problem, apart from feeling irritable or tired the next day. But the effect of long-term sleep deprivation can be far more serious, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.

So, in this week's educational blog we're talking about all things sleep. We're discussing sleep hygiene, and quality sleep and we've got lots of practical tips to help you sleep (and feel) better!

How much sleep do I need?

Everybody is different, but on average, it's recommended that adults get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

Although that sounds doable, sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity. Getting 8 hours of sleep is great, but if you spend it tossing and turning you won't reap the same benefits sleep has on your brain power, heart health, muscle recovery, and immune system.

What is quality sleep?

Quality sleep is less about thinking about how long you're in bed for but instead relates to the overall value of your sleep and how beneficial it is for your body.

A few key indicators of quality sleep are:

  • Sleeping at least 85 percent of the total time you spend in bed
  • Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
  • Waking up no more than once per night
  • Being awake for 20 minutes or less if you do wake up in the night

How does bad sleep affect your heart health?

Sleep quality is particularly important, because not having enough sleep, or having poor sleep quality can also impact your heart health.

Plus, disturbed sleep is associated with higher levels of a protein called CRP (C-reactive protein), which is a sign of inflammation in the body that's linked to heart and circulatory disease.

BHF experts shared some interesting research showcasing the importance of sleep on heart health. Looking for a reason to have a nap? BHF shares that one study found that two naps a week are associated with a 48% lower risk of a heart attack or stroke.

There is also evidence that suggests a link between a good night's rest and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease (the build-up of fatty plaques in the blood vessels supplying your heart).

The study's author said, "more research is needed to clarify exactly why, but we do know that sleep influences biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation -- all of which have an impact on cardiovascular disease."

Can bad sleep also affect your weight?

Sleep can also have an indirect impact on heart health, by affecting our lifestyle choices. Did you know that getting enough sleep can help with weight management? Research suggests this is because lack of sleep can affect the hormones that influence our appetite.

The clinical experts at BHF share that obesity can have negative effects on your heart and circulatory health.

In addition to hormone regulation, if we're running on low energy due to lack of sleep, it's suggested that we might be more tempted to reach for sugary, unhealthy foods for a quick boost. Over a long period of time this could lead to weight gain and a greater risk of coronary heart disease.

Tips for boosting your sleep quality

  1. Build in a relaxing routine before bedtime

Sending your brain the message that bedtime is coming is essential if you have issues with stress or switching off. You can do this by building in a relaxing routine into your evening. This will be different for everyone, based on what relaxes you. For some that might be a warm bath with essential oils, listening to calming music, meditation, or reading a book.

Making this a part of your daily bedtime routine will help you to feel sleepy by telling your brain to release sleep hormones.

  1. Limit the use of technology and devices

Where possible, try to cut down the use of your phone, tv and computer at least 30 minutes before bed. This might mean you don't keep any of these in your bedroom so that you don't feel tempted to look at them before you try to sleep. Reading a book or listening to a podcast might be options if you don't feel tired straight away.

  1. Create a sleep-friendly environment

Making your room as dark as possible will help you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Blackout blinds or heavier curtains are good options if you're regularly disturbed by outside light, or an eye mask is a quick solution.

Other things to consider are temperature, smell, and sound. If you get too hot or cold, it's great to have a range of blankets or to use a quiet fan.

You could use lavender oil in a diffuser to calm you before bed and try earplugs if you are sometimes disturbed by the sound.

  1. Watch what you eat before bedtime

If you lead a busy lifestyle, you may find yourself eating dinner later and later. But this might be disrupting your sleep! Try to not eat meals 2-3 hours before bed so it can digest properly and avoid spicy food, sugary snacks, alcohol, and large meals too close to bedtime.

Sugary food is generally bad for sleep because the energy spike and crash it causes can mess with your body clock.

Caffeine can also disrupt your sleep, so try to cut back on drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks in the afternoon, as it can take between 4- 6 hours for half the caffeine to leave your system.

Instead, try to include foods in your diet like milk, chicken, turkey, and pumpkin seeds which can boost sleep as they are high in tryptophan and serotonin. These chemicals help to create the sleep hormone, melatonin and could improve your sleep quality.

  1. Get some daily physical activity

Physical activity is great for sleep, as well as for your health generally. However, some people find that if they do intense exercise less than two hours before bedtime, it can make it harder to get to sleep. If you don't find this a problem, then there's no need to change your routine.

A daily walk outside has double benefits, helping you to get vitamin D and fresh air as you exercise, all of which help to boost your sleep quality.

  1. Make sleep a priority

When most of us think about looking after our heart health we often think of exercise or diet. But sleep is just as important. If you have habits like looking at your phone before bed, or not giving yourself an 8-hour window to sleep most nights, then it's worth thinking about some little changes you can make to improve your routine. It can be one of the things you do to look after your heart health and overall wellbeing.

Want to learn more?

Interested in finding out more about sleep and your heart? Read BHF's article about sleep and healthy eating.

If you're not part of the Healthy Hearts Programme yet, join our 8-week programme designed to help you look after your heart health.