February is American Heart Month and here’s how sleep is connected!
“With all that’s going on in our lives and the world, reducing stress and getting sleep is important, they are factors in heart health.” adapted from Andie MacDowell
Although most people associate February with love, romance, and Valentine’s Day, it’s also an important time of the year to step back and reevaluate our heart health. For decades, American Heart Month has reminded people of the growing problem of heart disease in our society.
Today, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for men and women. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly two-thirds of Americans die from heart disease every year, that’s one person dying every 37 seconds in the US.
The health epidemic is characterized by a buildup of plaque in our arteries that forces our hearts to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Major risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Excessive alcohol consumption, diabetes, poor diets, and obesity are also linked to heart disease.
“I have to admit I was dismayed when I found out ‘type A’ refers to a category of risk for heart disease – I thought it was just a nickname my mom gave me!” Reese Witherspoon
And guess what?
Sleep is connected to every one of these risk factors, which means that sleep has an impact on whether or not someone develops heart disease in his or her lifetime.
When we are sleep deprived, we are both mentally and physically handicapped compared to our best selves. Poor sleep can exacerbate underlying health issues and lower our inhibitions when it comes to resisting unhealthy temptations.
On the other hand, healthy sleep habits keep our appetites in check and allow our minds and bodies to recover from the stresses of everyday life.
Let’s take a closer look at how sleep is connected to some of the risk factors mentioned above.
Sleep & blood pressure
When we sleep, our blood pressure lowers. It rises back up before we wake. If we’re constantly sleep deprived, our blood pressure stays up for more hours of the day, which means that our hearts work harder for longer.
We deprive our hearts of much-needed rest when we don’t sleep and stay awake.
Sleep & obesity
Obesity is skyrocketing in the U.S. Between our eating habits, beliefs about sleep and food and the food processing techniques, we struggle to keep our weight down to healthy levels. When we’re tired, we tend to choose bad foods that satisfy unhealthy cravings. Sleep loss also throws our metabolism out of whack and causes imbalances in crucial hormones that control hunger.
Obesity can also lead to sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by continual sleep interruptions. Sleep apnea prevents our bodies from getting the oxygen it needs, as well as disrupts our sleep so that we can’t enjoy deep, restorative rest.
Sleep & diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a preventable disease that more than 30 million people in the U.S. have today. Another 84 million people are prediabetic and even some dear friends of mine suffer from this not knowing that there are other choices. The length and quality of our sleep are connected to Hemoglobin A1c, which influences our body’s ability to control blood sugar levels.
Poor sleep hurts our ability to manage blood sugar and increases our risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And diabetes increases our risk of developing many other health problems.
“Heart disease and diabetes, account for more deaths worldwide than everything else combined, are completely preventable by making comprehensive lifestyle changes without drugs or surgery.” adapted from Dean Ornish
Three actions you can take now
I know this blog post has been heavy on biology and data. But I think it’s important to realize how much sleep is involved in preserving our physical health. I’ll even share more on an upcoming webinar soon called, The Secret of Sleep.
Sleep is a foundational component of our overall wellbeing. Although good sleep won’t cure our worst ailments or diseases on its own, it certainly helps. During American Heart Month, I want you to treat your heart exceptionally well, both in the literal and figurative senses.
1. Evaluate your diet
Do you feel confident in what you put in your body day in and day out?
Consider what you really need and enjoy, and what you can probably do without. Then, think about how your sleep habits might affect the food choices you make.
If you’ve been consuming more fast food than usual, it may be tied to how much sleep you are getting. Your healthy self makes better choices than your tired self. Don’t forget that.
2. Evaluate your rest
Are there stressors in your life that prevent you from really resting well? Do you have trouble sleeping because your mind is racing all the time?
Rather than view sleep as an obstacle to productivity, consider it to be the key that unlocks your true potential. More on that in our The Secret of Sleep webinar starting March 4.
Don’t get me wrong – this is easier said than done. But the faster you learn that sleep empowers you to take your stressors head-on, the better you will rest each night.
3. Evaluate your relationships
Are your relationships as strong as they could be?
If the answer is “no,” take a second to think about your overall emotional health. Poor sleep can make you more irritable, less patient, and less resilient to deal with daily emotional challenges.
During American Heart Month, do the hard work of self-reflection and explore whether or not your current sleep patterns are negatively impacting your relationships. If so, the good news is that the solution is an easy one! Sleep, sleep well, and sleep more! And check out our Happiness Playshop (a workshop but more fun) that can improve relationships!
I have an open heart and I welcome hearing from you! Let’s chat!