When you think of heart-healthy lifestyle choices, eating a nutrient-rich diet, moving more, and quitting smoking may come to mind. But there’s one crucial factor that you—and more than one-third of Americans—may be forgetting: getting enough sleep.
“One thing my patients may not realize is how important sleep is for their overall health and also for their cardiovascular health,” says Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, a clinical instructor in medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. People who don't sleep enough are at higher risk for high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease—regardless of their age, weight, smoking, and exercise habits.
This is especially true for people who suffer from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. “Sleep apnea is absolutely correlated with cardiovascular disease, stroke, cardiac death—and a lot of us are sleep deprived,” says Dr. Knoepflmacher.
Why is sleep so important for your health? “During that rest period, your body is regenerating fresh new cells [and] getting rid of the bad cells; the garbage,” says Satjit Bhusri, MD, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. “If you don’t get enough sleep, you have an accumulation of this trash that causes both mental and physical problems.” For example, sleep deprivation can cause your hunger hormones to go out of whack, which can lead to unhealthy eating and weight gain. (Here are more ways your body suffers when you skimp on sleep.) “For your whole body, for all your organs, for your brain, for your heart—all of that regeneration, that turnover of fresh new cells, happens while you sleep,” says Dr. Bhusri.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7 to 9 hours every night, but 6 or 10 hours may be appropriate for some people.
“A lot of it has to do with how someone feels and the quality of their sleep,” says Dr. Knoepflmacher. “If you’re sleeping 10 hours, and you’re waking up and you’re not rested, that’s no good. And there are some people who can get by on 6 hours and they’re perfectly well-rested,” he says. The best way to know if you’re getting quality sleep? Listen to your body and avoid these seemingly innocent sleep-sabotaging habits.