Too Little Sleep Can Hurt Your Heart: 8 Ways to Get More Zs

Tired lady waking up

Has sleep taken a back seat to burning the midnight oil, watching the late shows, or surfing the Internet? Not getting enough sleep could be hurting for your heart.

Sleep is an important part of our quality of life, but did you know a lack of sleep can hurt your heart? Over the past five years, various studies have linked too little sleep to heart disease.

Researchers say you have a greater risk of developing or dying from heart disease and stroke if you sleep less than six hours a night or have disturbed sleep. Chronic short sleep produces hormones and chemicals in the body that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and even some cancers.

How Much Sleep do You Need?

This varies from person to person. You might be able to get through your day on a couple of hours of sleep, or you might not function well without 10 hours of shut-eye. The consensus seems to be that we need about seven to nine hours a night, with the harmful effects of sleep deprivation kicking in with less than six or seven hours. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 percent of adults report sleeping less than seven hours a night.

Scientists are still piecing together exactly what losing sleep does to the body, but whether it's interfering with hormones and proteins or heightening inflammation, sleep deprivation is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. And let's not forget the safety hazards of not getting enough sleep, including an increased risk of car accidents and accidents in the workplace.

Are You a Clock Checker or Mind Racer?

The inability to fall asleep or stay asleep brings many people to the doctor. I find most patients fall into one of two categories: the clock checker and the mind racer.

The clock checker tries to fall asleep at a reasonable time, but no amount of sheep counting sheep or pillow fluffing makes a difference. They typically count down the hours of lost sleep: “Only five hours left; now, four; and I have a meeting early in the morning!” They continue to check the clock every five to 10 minutes, increasing their anxiety and sleep deprivation.

The mind racer often falls asleep, but awakens early (around 3 or 4 a.m.) wide awake, and unable to complete their sleep. These folks typically have too much to do in a 24-hour time period, are feeling blue, or have other stressors weighing on them. It's important to note, that “early morning awakenings” may also be a sign of depression.

What You Can Do to Improve Your Sleep

  • Eat healthy, including 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Exercise 5 days a week.
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time each morning.
  • Avoid stimulating activities prior to bed.
  • The bedroom is only to be used for intimacy and sleep.
  • If you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep, get out of bed and read a non-stimulating book in another room. Return when you're ready to try again.
  • Don’t check the clock. Turn it around or unplug it and use your cell phone as an alarm.
author name

Christopher L. Hager, MD

Christopher Hager, MD, is a family medicine physician with Novara, a concierge primary care practice. Dr. Hager is a graduate of Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine and the Lancaster General Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program. His areas of special expertise include prevention/wellness, sports medicine, and management of chronic diseases (diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol).

Call: 717-544-5000

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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