You Should Prioritize Sleep for a Healthy Heart in the Hudson Valley

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Think you don’t need a ton of rest to get by? Think again. The right amount of sleep supports heart health and overall wellbeing.

Many people pride themselves on “not needing” a lot of sleep. But the truth is, even if you can get by on fewer than 7–8 hours a night, you may be doing damage to your heart. We spoke to Shyla Kodi, M.D., a neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley, to learn the health risks of too few zzzs.

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How exactly does sleep impact heart health?

Sleep is important for regulating a variety of physiological processes. Good quality sleep can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress and inflammation, improve glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, and boost cardiovascular function. On the other hand, sleep deprivation or poor quality of sleep has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and other heart problems, such as irregular heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmia). Disorders like sleep apnea can also have adverse effects on heart health.

What about those people who already have high blood pressure or a history of stroke—can too little sleep make the conditions worse?

For individuals with high blood pressure or a history of stroke, it’s especially important to prioritize getting adequate and quality sleep to help reduce the risk of further health problems. Seven to nine hours per night is considered healthy for most adults. Talking to a doctor about sleep-related issues can help address any underlying sleep disorders that may be contributing to health problems.

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Sleep apnea seems to clearly impact heart health. How do you know if you have it?

Common signs and symptoms include loud snoring; choking or gasping during sleep (this is caused by the partial or complete blocking of the airway); excessive daytime sleepiness; restless sleep (frequent waking, tossing, and turning); morning headaches; dry mouth or a sore throat (people with apnea often sleep with their mouth open); and daytime irritability, mood changes, trouble focusing, and memory issues.

If you notice any of these signs, see a doctor who can diagnose if the symptoms represent sleep apnea. Treatment may involve lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and avoiding alcohol, or using a device to help keep the airway open during sleep, such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

Does it matter what time you go to sleep?

A study published last year by the European Society of Cardiology suggests a potential association between the timing of sleep and heart health. The body has a 24-hour internal clock, called circadian rhythm, that helps regulate physical and mental functioning. While the study authors could not conclude direct causation (i.e. early or late bedtimes would result in higher cardiac risk), it is important to note that the results do suggest that early or late bedtimes may be more likely to disrupt the body clock, with adverse consequences for cardiovascular health.

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How Can We All Get A Better Night’s Sleep?

There are several simple strategies everyone can implement to improve overall sleep quality:

• Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule

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It’s best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

• Exercise Regularly

Physical activity can improve the quality of your sleep, but be sure to finish any vigorous exercise at least a few hours before bedtime.

• Try Not to Nap

Napping during the day can disrupt your sleep schedule and make it harder to fall asleep at night.

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• Create a Sleep-Conducive Environment

Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Use comfortable bedding and keep electronic devices in another room.

• Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

Both can interfere with sleep so it’s best to avoid caffeine and alcohol in the hours leading up to bedtime.

• Relax in the Evening:

Engage in soothing activities such as reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing deep breathing exercises.

• Shut Off the Screens

The blue light emitted by electronic devices can interfere with the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, so it’s best to avoid them for at least an hour before going to bed.

Related: 6 Wellness Trends to Help You Feel Great in the Hudson Valley

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