Insomnia and Heart Health: A New Link

Getting a good amount of consistent, quality sleep is perhaps the best thing we can do for our health. And we know that not getting enough sleep can have disastrous consequences, from fatigue to crankiness and irritability to poor mental performance and everything in between. Not getting enough sleep literally makes you a less focused, less successful, less healthy, and less happy version of yourself. Also consider the fact that sleep deprivation is used as a torture method and you can see how harmful not getting sleep can be. We’ve evolved to do it one third of our lives, so clearly it’s essential. Given its tremendous impact on our health and well-being, it is even more tragic that so many Americans struggle with insomnia. And now you can add poor heart health to the list of problems associated with not getting enough sleep.

Insomnia is defined as having trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, feeling tired upon waking, or any combination of the three. Very few Americans have none of these issues, and new research published in the European Heart Journal suggests that insomnia plays a major role in heart health. The published study tracked more than 50,000 male and female participants for more than 11 years and found that having one of the three insomnia hallmarks mentioned above increased the rate of heart failure slightly. But, severe insomniacs beware of reading on, having all three hallmark insomnia symptoms tripled the rate of heart failure. Now you really have something to worry about while you try to fruitlessly fall asleep. Researchers surmised that having trouble sleeping led to increased levels of stress hormones which cause increased blood pressure and inflammation, both major contributors to heart disease.

So what can insomniacs do? The day-to-day personal and emotional havoc that insomnia wreaks is enough, let alone that new research has found a major link between not sleeping and heart failure. It’s a very tricky problem to tackle. Many Americans struggle with depression and anxiety, both of which are major contributors to insomnia. How do we often combat this depression and anxiety? Drugs, alcohol, and prescribed medication of course. After all, it’s the American way. But these practices often only increase our risk of insomnia. Whereas a couple drinks or a sleeping pill might fix insomnia in the short term, these behaviors only create dependence and increased insomnia once your body adjusts and still decides it would rather worry than sleep. Even the caffeine we use to combat the fatigue created by insomnia itself causes insomnia. Talk about a vicious cycle.

There are some peripheral ways to combat insomnia, but ideally we’d figure out what issues in our lives are causing it in the first place and deal with those head on. Short of that though (because where do we even begin, right?), here are a few helpful tips to get you some sleep. Establishing and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is key. That is, going to sleep and waking up at roughly the same time each day. Of course this is much easier said than done, especially for those working 9-5 jobs that want nothing more than to sleep in until noon on the weekends. And who could blame you, you’re exhausted from a long week’s hard work and your body needs sleep. Also try avoiding caffeine 6-8 hours before sleep and know that when it comes to alcohol, passed out sleep is not restful sleep. Try and create a dark and quiet environment when you go to sleep, and either turn the thermostat down or crack a window because falling asleep is easier in cooler temperatures. Do something relaxing before bed like listening to music or taking a hot shower. And if you do find yourself laying there in the dark unable to sleep, just calm down and use it as good “quiet thinking time.” Think about whatever you want and let your mind wander. The worst thing you can do is stress out about not sleeping and get up and start doing something like watching TV or cleaning the house. Just lay there in the dark in a relaxed state, and your body will eventually put you to sleep.

In conclusion, clearly this new research linking heart failure to insomnia is anxiety and depression-provoking for people who are already experiencing anxiety and/or depression. If you are an insomniac, perhaps let this be your call to action to really try and manage your insomnia. It isn’t just about feeling a little tired the next day, we now know that insomnia has much more dire consequences than just a little fatigue. During sleep is when our bodies and minds heal and rest, and without it there simply is no way to be at optimal health.

Article Courtesy:  Andrew Steingrube