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How sleep affects heart health

Feb. 17, 2017—One of the most important reasons to get a good night's sleep may never cross your mind: protecting your heart.

Adequate sleep is a must for a healthy heart—no matter how much you exercise, how well you eat or what you weigh. One large study of some 3,000 adults over age 45 found, for example, that those who got fewer than six hours of sleep each night were twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as those who slept six to eight hours.

It's not quite clear why skimping on sleep hurts your heart. But doctors do know that too little sleep raises the risk of high blood pressure. And the higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk of damage to your heart and other organs.

What's more, too little sleep also raises the risk of other health problems that can harm your heart, including:

  • Diabetes. Sleep affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Insufficient sleep causes abnormally high blood sugar levels, which may make you more prone to diabetes.
  • Obesity. A lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain. One likely reason: When you're short on sleep, your levels of a hormone that makes you feel hungry (ghrelin) go up and your levels of a hormone that makes you feel full (leptin) go down.

How much sleep do you need?

While sleep needs vary from person to person, most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night for a healthy heart and good overall health, according to the American Heart Association. Children and teens need even more.

To minimize tossing and turning, try these three tips from the National Sleep Foundation:

  1. Stick to a schedule. Try to go to bed—and wake up—at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  2. Exercise every day. Vigorous exercise may be best. But even light exercise is better than no activity.
  3. Wind down with a bedtime ritual. A relaxing routine—maybe taking a hot bath or listening to soothing music—avoiding screens and bright lights can help ease you into sleep.

Check out this infographic to find out more about the sleep needs of you and your family.

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