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February is heart health month. When most people think about heart health, diet and exercise may be the first things that come to mind when you think about taking care of your heart. However, what you do overnight counts too. Sleep deficiencies can contribute to many heart conditions, and heart troubles can make it difficult to sleep. Many people struggle with conditions such as sleep apnea, as an impact of there metabolic health, weight gain, as well as cardio metabolic health. 

Experts have been aware of a link between sleep apnea and high blood pressure for many years. As a person loses oxygen while sleeping, the risk of stroke increases. Stroke is a lack of blood flow to the brain. Now, ongoing research is discovering similar interactions related to insomnia and other sleep disorders.

Learn more about how you can use sleep to keep your heart healthy because remember health is built consistently, deliberately, over an extended period of time.

Understanding How Sleep Affects Your Heart

In today’s age things are busier and busier with many people working harder and harder to complete their to do list. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one third of adults get less than the minimum recommendation of 7 hours of sleep each night, adding to their risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. What does that mean for you? How can you turn these bad health habits around to be able to protect your heart?

Consider these facts:

1.) Count your hours. Lack of sleep can disrupt your hormones and cause calcium buildup and other changes in your arteries. On the other hand, excessive sleep of more than 9 hours is associated with higher health risks too. Most adults need to aim for 7 to 8 hours nightly. Sleep also needs to be deep and restful which means that there is no need to watch television, or be on the phone before bed. It is important to create a night time routine prior to bed, which includes preparing the body as well as the mind for bed. This practice allows the body and the mind to prepare for a restful evening of sleep.

2.)Watch your blood pressure. Your heart slows down, and your blood pressure drops while you sleep. This nocturnal dipping gives your body a chance to heal from daily stress. Without this time off, you’re more vulnerable to hypertension and other issues. The number one cause of hypertension is dehydration. Another primary cause is a poor diet that lacks potassium yet has large amounts of sodium. This can be found in a processed foods diet, where dark green leafy greens are sparse while high processed foods are high.

3.)Manage diabetes. Elevated blood sugar can harm your blood vessels. Sleep helps to stabilize blood glucose, lowering your risk for pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. A diet that lacks protein can destabilize the blood sugar, in addition to a diet that is rich in starchy, sugary foods and drinks. People that do not manage their lifestyle to include their diet can be at risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

4.)Lose weight. Do you crave fattening foods after a restless night? Studies show that lack of sleep may throw your hunger hormones out of balance, and make you want to overeat. Excess pounds increase inflammation and strain your heart, especially if they settle down around your midsection. When we assess body composition within our practice, we often assess visceral fat. As we assess visceral fat, we asses the fat around your organs. This fat around your organs is a leading cause of metabolic syndrome and diseases associated with metabolic syndrome such as diabetes, hypertension, etc.

5.)Reduce sleep apnea. If you snore and feel tired during the day, you may have sleep apnea. This disorder causes you to stop breathing intermittently while you’re asleep, putting you at greater risk for heart attack, stroke, and atrial fibrillation. There are also many genetic predispositions to cardiovascular inflammatory processes within the vascular structures of the body. Increasing blood flow through these vascular structures is key. Many dark leafy greens contain chlorophyll which can help bring more oxygen through your blood vessels.

6.)Minimize disruptions. Even if you go to bed early, frequent interruptions can keep you from enjoying the four essential stages of sleep. The deeper stages of non-rapid eye movement sleep are especially beneficial for your heart. In addition, continuous sleep keeps your heart rate from spiking each time you wake up. Many people have experienced some level of trauma in their life. The trauma response creates a hypervigilance in the brain. Hypervigilance is when the brain is unable to rest because it is rapidly scanning for feedback to defend itself from attack. This makes it impossible to have a deep restful sleep. Drinking Kava tea, Chamomile, or a couple of Lavender drops on the pillow at night can help a person have a restful sleep. Meditation and yoga also are helpful to reduce the stress response within the body and the mind.

More Heart-Healthy Habits

Almost 80% of heart disease and stroke are preventable, according to the American Heart Association. Small lifestyle changes can make a big difference.

Include these heart-healthy habits in your daily routines:

1.)Be consistent. One study found that late night shift workers had almost 20% higher rates of coronary heart disease. If possible, go to bed and wake up at around the same time each day. This will build consistency in your schedule and in your routine each day, moving your body and mind into a pattern of behavior.

2.)Change your diet. Eat more fiber, including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Cut back on saturated fat and avoid trans fats. Adding green leafy vegetables to each meal can help reduce cravings while also cleaning the blood. Eating a whole foods plant based, processed food free diet is key to help the body get well and heal.

3.)Exercise regularly. Work your way up to doing at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. Cardio workouts like running and biking strengthen your heart and lower your blood pressure. Strength training conditions your heart and enhances your overall health too. Having a balanced activity level of cardio and strength training can optimize the health of the body. Movement exercises and even bodyweight strength and stretch activities such as yoga or pilates can also be helpful to move blood flow throughout your joints creating a more limber and freely moving body.

4.)Learn to relax. It’s natural to feel anxious sometimes, especially in these chaotic times. Relaxation practices can help you to cope and enjoy more restful sleep. Take part each day in activities that help you relax. If I have a lot on my mind, I often enjoy Wayne Dyers 5 mins before bedtime meditation. This is an excellent meditation to allow for the mind to relax and release the day. Having a journal by your bed and writing about all of the ideas, thoughts, fears, worries, and doubts in the mind is helpful to restore peace as well as tranquility to the mind before bedtime.

Sufficient sleep and other heart healthy habits can lower your risk for many serious medical conditions. Speaking with your holistic doctor can help you figure out which factors are most important for helping you to lead a longer and more active life. A holistic doctor evaluates your state of health and then creates a short term or long term plan of action to get well.

Heart conditions
Metabolic syndrome
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