Many people view sleep as a luxury, but it’s so much more than that. Sleep is an essential part of good health — as important as good nutrition and physical activity.
For most adults, the ideal amount of sleep is seven to nine hours in a 24-hour period. According to the American Heart Association, sleeping less than seven hours — or more than nine — is associated with increased risk of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
The risk of a heart attack is 20% higher in people who routinely sleep less than six hours. The risk of early death is 12% higher for adults sleeping less than six to eight hours per night.
While you sleep, critical processes occur in your body that can’t happen while you are awake. These include a downshift of activity within your autonomic nervous system. Without this, your sympathetic, “fight or flight” nervous system runs unchecked. Blood pressure elevates, and blood cells form clots more easily. All of these increase your risk for heart attack or stroke.
Inadequate sleep impacts pancreas function. This leads to insulin resistance, which promotes weight gain and increases your risk for type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is a major cause of elevated triglycerides and cholesterol — also increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease.
When you don’t sleep well, your brain also suffers. Poor sleep causes problems with memory formation, as well as delayed reaction time and decreased appetite control. Sleep deprived people tend to eat more calories — often choosing high-fat, high-sugar foods that further increase cardiovascular risk.
If you are looking for another way to improve your heart health this year, consider working on your sleep habits. The Wellness Department at Hendricks Regional Health has several upcoming virtual events focused on improving sleep habits and relaxing for better sleep. Check out hendricks.org/events for details.