Hitting proper sleep target greatly helps your heart

By Priya Kalia, M.D.
Feb. 13, 2018 at 5:45 p.m.
Updated Feb. 14, 2018 at 1 a.m.

Priya Kalia, M.D.

Priya Kalia, M.D.   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

Everyone knows the value of a good night's sleep. But during the last 50 years, sleep duration has decreased an average of two hours per night for adults in the U.S. During that same period of time, we have learned that poor sleep habits have a definitive correlation to an increased risk of heart disease.

A European study published in 2011 involved the sleep patterns of nearly 475,000 people. Results indicated "short sleepers" - defined as getting less than six hours per night - had a 48-percent greater risk of early death from heart disease and a 15-percent greater risk of a stroke.

However, before you dive into your PJs and plan to move into your comfy king-sized bed for the rest of the winter, be warned: too much sleep is not much better. The study revealed "long sleepers" - defined as getting an average of nine or more hours per night - also showed a 38-percent increased risk of developing or dying from heart disease and a 65-percent increased risk of stroke.

While lack of sleep doesn't necessarily cause heart disease, evidence shows insufficient sleep increases the risk factors. For instance, studies show a link between shortened sleep cycles and increased calcification of the arteries - which is a predictor of eventual coronary artery disease. Similar studies revealed shorter sleep is also tied to worsening hypertension.

Measuring the effect of sleep on heart health is fairly new and complicated. However, it's safe to say this: Getting less than six hours of sleep per night on a regular basis is not a good idea. To that end, here are some quick tips to help you get a good night's sleep - at least on most nights:

• Exercise regularly. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days, but avoid any rigorous exercise within three hours of bedtime.

• Switch to decaf. More and more studies show a link between coffee and physical benefits, but consider switching to water or decaffeinated beverages after 3 p.m.

• Establish a routine. Give your brain a chance to move into sleep mode - turn off the TV or video games at least two hours before bed. Consider meditation before climbing into bed or a low-key yoga program specially designed for evening relaxation.

• Avoid sleep medicines. Medication designed to induce rapid or deep sleep may have value in the short term but can do tremendous damage to your long-term sleep habits.

• Address sleep apnea. If you suffer from sleep apnea or excessive snoring, do not underestimate its impact on your health - or your heart. Treatments for both conditions have made major advances in the past decade and are both convenient and effective in restoring sleep and proper breathing.

Sleep is one of the most significant and underrated aspects of our overall health and longevity and also one of the easiest things to fix with some modest lifestyle modifications. If you need to be connected with a qualified sleep medicine practitioner, talk to your primary care physician.

Dr. Priya Kalia is a first year resident in the DeTar Family Medicine Residency program. She is accepting new patients to her practice at DeTar Family Medicine Center. Call 361-579-8300 to schedule an appointment.


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