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How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health?

Photo of Caucasian man reaching out of bed for alarm clock

Getting good sleep isn’t just important for your energy levels—it is critical for your heart health, too. Learn how sleep is connected to heart health.

Sleep is not a luxury. It is critical to good health. Sleep helps your body repair itself. Getting enough good sleep also helps you function normally during the day.

How much sleep do I need?

Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep each night.1 However, more than one in three American adults say they don’t get the recommended amount of sleep.2 While this may be fine for a day or two, not getting enough sleep over time can lead to serious health problems—and make certain health problems worse.

What health conditions are linked to a lack of sleep?

Adults who sleep less than 7 hours each night are more likely to say they have had health problems, including heart attack, asthma, and depression.3 Some of these health problems raise the risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. These health problems include:

  • High blood pressure. During normal sleep, your blood pressure goes down. Having sleep problems means your blood pressure stays higher for a longer amount of time.4 High blood pressure is one of the leading risks for heart disease and stroke. About 75 million Americans—one in three adults—have high blood pressure.5
  • Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a disease that causes sugar to build up in your blood, a condition that can damage your blood vessels. Some studies show that getting enough good sleep may help people improve blood sugar control.6
  • Obesity. Lack of sleep can lead to unhealthy weight gain. This is especially true for children and adolescents, who need more sleep than adults. Not getting enough sleep may affect a part of the brain that controls hunger.6

Photo of black woman laying her head on a stack of books near a computer
Feeling tired? Can’t stop yawning? You may not be getting enough sleep. Over time, not getting good sleep can hurt your heart health.

What sleep conditions can hurt my heart health?

Over time, sleep problems can hurt your heart health.

Sleep apnea happens when your airway gets blocked repeatedly during sleep, causing you to stop breathing for short amounts of time. Sleep apnea can be caused by certain health problems, such as obesity and heart failure.

Sleep apnea affects how much oxygen your body gets while you sleep and increases the risk for many health problems, including high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. It is more common among blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans than among whites.7

Insomnia is trouble falling sleep, staying asleep, or both. As many as one in two adults experiences short-term insomnia at some point, and 1 in 10 may have long-lasting insomnia.8 Insomnia is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. Over time, poor sleep can also lead to unhealthy habits that can hurt your heart, including higher stress levels, less motivation to be physically active, and unhealthy food choices.

What can I do to get better sleep?

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
  • Get enough natural light, especially earlier in the day. Try going for a morning or lunchtime walk.
  • Get enough physical activity during the day. Try not to exercise within a few hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid artificial light, especially within a few hours of bedtime. Use a blue light filter on your computer or smartphone.
  • Don’t eat or drink within a few hours of bedtime, especially alcohol and foods high in fat or sugar.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.

Work with your health care team to identify obstacles to good sleep, including other medical conditions.

References

  1. CDC. (2017). How much sleep do I need?
  2. Liu Y, Wheaton AG, Chapman DP, Cunningham TJ, Lu H, Croft JB. Prevalence of healthy sleep duration among adults — United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;65:137-41.
  3. CDC. (2017). Age-Adjusted Percentage Reporting Chronic Health Conditions by Sleep Duration—Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, United States, 2014.
  4. Calhoun DA, Harding SM. Sleep and Hypertension. CHEST. 2010;138(2):434-43.
  5. CDC. (2018). High blood pressure.
  6. CDC. (2013). Sleep and chronic disease.
  7. NHLBI. (n.d.). Sleep apnea.
  8. Sateia MJ, Buysse DJ, Krystal AD, Neubauer DN, Heald JL. Clinical practice guideline for the pharmacologic treatment of chronic insomnia in adults: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine clinical practice guideline. J Clin Sleep Med. 2017;13(2):307-49.

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