Published on 02/28/19

Sleep well for a healthy heart

By Barbara Worley

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, resulting in one out of every four deaths. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agents, like me, spread the word year around about how to help keep your heart healthy.

Well-known tips include maintaining a diet low in saturated fat and sodium, getting enough physical activity and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Many people do not fully realize, however, the importance of getting enough sleep to your heart's health.

Sleep is your body’s way of restoring itself. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most Americans need at least seven hours of sleep a night. Research has shown that those who get less than the recommended seven to nine hours are more prone to chronic disease conditions, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. 

The CDC reports 31.4 percent of adults in Georgia are obese and 34.4 percent are overweight. Being obese or overweight contributes to the development of chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

Not getting enough sleep can lead to unhealthy weight gain resulting in obesity. Some studies have shown that lack of sleep may affect a part of the brain that controls hunger. Also, sleep-deprived people may be too tired to exercise, which results in being less physically activity. Furthermore, there are opportunities to consume more calories when one is awake longer, and temptations from technology and television can trigger overeating.

Type 2 diabetes causes sugar (glucose) to build up in the blood, eventually damaging blood vessels and leading to other serious health problems, such as heart disease. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that acts like a key to let blood sugar in the body’s cells be used as energy.

However, in Type 2 diabetics, these cells do not respond normally to insulin  –  they are insulin resistant. The pancreas makes more insulin to try to get cells to respond. Eventually the pancreas cannot keep up, resulting in high blood sugar (blood glucose) levels. 

Stress and lack of sleep also have been proven to make blood glucose management difficult. Some studies show that getting the recommended number of hours of sleep may help people improve blood sugar control, particularly when measuring A1c levels.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the leading risks for heart disease and stroke. Approximately 75 million Americans — one in three adults — have high blood pressure.  Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries which carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, based on various factors including stress and diet. When blood pressure stays high for extended periods of time, damage can occur. When you are asleep, your blood pressure decreases. Difficulty sleeping can lead to blood pressure staying higher for longer periods of time.

All three of these chronic conditions are interrelated. Obesity is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, and heart disease is the leading cause of early death among people with diabetes. Nearly 75 percent of people with diabetes have high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. 

This is information you can sleep on.

For more information on home, health, nutrition and food safety, contact your local UGA Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

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