Every single piece of the human body benefits from sleep, including the cardiovascular system. With February being Heart Awareness Month, let’s make the connection between sleep hygiene and a healthy heart. The key to being committed to sleep is finding the why or the reason to make it a priority. For some people, that may be taking care of their heart. Here are the reasons why the sleep and heart health connection is so important.
The Sleep and Heart Health Connection
Here are four ways sleep and heart health are connected.
- Sleep duration. The brain moves through several stages of sleep each night, just like a washing machine has cycles. If you don’t get enough sleep each night, part of a stage or a whole section gets cut off. Think of laundry that still has soap in it or hasn’t been wrung out. What is most likely to get cut out of sleep cycles is REM dreaming sleep, because that’s the one that happens last and in the earliest morning. REM dreaming sleep supports emotional health. Researchers believe that dreams are just a by-product of the brain’s emotional work each night. When people get enough sleep each night, specifically enough REM dreaming, they are more emotionally stable the next day. Reduced stress levels make for a happy heart.
- Sleep timing. Getting to bed at the same time each night and waking at the same time each day has benefits for the heart because it conserves energy. When bedtime and rising time are changed each day or on the weekends, every process in the body has to alter its course around that choice. Melatonin release, cortisol rhythm, temperature, digestion, etc. can be disrupted. There is a clock in all three trillion cells in the human body and they all change their watches around bedtime and rising time. Think about a train schedule and what happens if the train leaves the station at a different time each day. How does that impact the commuters? This is how it is for the body, including the heart when sleep rhythm is altered.
- Sleep Quality. The first two play into this third sleep component. Getting enough sleep on a routine each night has profound benefits for the human body. Deep sleep is key. Not only is there more energy for waking life, but blood pressure benefits from consistent, high-quality sleep. When sleeping, blood pressure is low, which impacts daytime blood pressure levels too. The heart never turns off, but it can rest at a lower pace overnight, which is wonderful for the cardiovascular system.
- Stress Management. What we do at night impacts the day because poor sleep elevates stress and vice-a-versa, stress during the day can make it tough to sleep at night. Stress management during the day encourages sound sleep at night. It’s harder to sleep and stay asleep when stress is circulating, specifically in the form of cortisol, a stress hormone that gets elevated when in fight or flight mode. The relationship between stress and sleep is circular; getting off the merry-go-round of stress and sleep deprivation is best targeted from both sides. Efforts placed into daytime stress relief and sleep hygiene simultaneously can get a person back on rhythm with sleep and stress.
The human body is multi-faceted and complex. No single part works in isolation. Stress causes higher heart rates and blood pressure which impacts sleep. Sleep affects the functions of the body systems during the day. Finding as much balance and homeostasis as possible is the goal, but always progress not perfection. Talk to your clients about the importance of sleep and heart health for optimizing their overall wellness and fitness.