Sleep well for a healthy heart

Adequate sleep can improve immune function.
Sleep well for a healthy heart

BENGALURU: Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together,” Thomas Dekker once said. Did you know that adequate sleep is just as important for good health, as nutrition and exercise? Well, it’s true! There are many benefits of adequate sleep. It improves the cognitive functions of the brain resulting in improved productivity and performance .

Adequate sleep can improve immune function. It has even been shown that antibody response to vaccines is better with adequate sleep. It increases metabolism and helps control blood sugars and body weight. It improves heart health. It even keeps depression and anxiety away! How much sleep does one need? It depends on the age, with newborns needing 12 to 18 hrs and adults needing 7 to 9 hrs per day. Short sleep is described as sleep of less than 7 hours duration.

However, did you know that humans are the only mammals that willingly deprives themselves of sleep? Instead of sleeping on time every night, we use this precious time for some activity that should have its own time and not encroach on the period allotted for sleep! Short sleep has many deleterious effects on one’s mind and body health. It has been shown to impair cognitive functions and decision-making skills, affecting one’s performance. Short sleep is associated with an increased risk of developing obesity and weight gain. Sleep deprivation may increase your appetite and cause you to eat more calories. In particular, you’re more likely to eat foods high in sugar and fat.

Short sleep impairs glucose metabolism and reduces insulin sensitivity. Combined with poor eating habits and predisposition for weight gain and obesity, it increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus. Short sleep tends to make one very stressed. It affects emotions and results in mood swings, making it difficult to control one’s outbursts. It is also linked to depression. Studies have shown it increases sympathetic nervous system activity.

All these results in increased heart rate and blood pressure. Short sleep is linked to an increased risk of atherosclerosis, a disease wherein fats deposit in the walls of arteries leading to blockages and obstruction to blood flow. Sleep deprivation also makes one prone to develop harmful habits like smoking. Obstructive sleep apnoea is a sleep disorder that is characterised by repetitive episodes of

shallow or paused breathing during sleep, depriving the body of oxygen. These patients have loud snoring. They don’t have restful sleep, are sleepy the next day, and can’t focus on daily activities. They tend to fall asleep easily during the day, even in meetings or while driving vehicles! They are prone to developing obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases. Sleep deprivation is directly linked to an increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases resulting in heart attacks and strokes.

Studies have shown that short sleep is associated with a 13% increased risk of death from heart diseases. In fact, every one-hour reduction in sleep increases the risk by 6%! In ‘SHORT’ short sleep has been linked to increased incidence of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart attacks and heart failure! In India, there is an alarming increase in heart diseases in the young. The disease is much more severe and complications are more, compared to older people.

Added to the disease burden, is the loss of productive hours and livelihood. This disturbing trend is mainly because of a deteriorating lifestyle and sleep deprivation is a major part of it. The mainstay of treatment of these lifestyle diseases is, well, lifestyle modifications. Most likely one would have got advice about diet, weight control, physical exercise, and treatment of diabetes and hypertension, etc.

It is equally important to recognise the importance of getting adequate sleep and the role it plays in controlling the other risk factors. If one has short sleep, it has to be acknowledged and active steps have to be taken to correct sleep habits. Only then the steps taken to control the other cardiovascular risk factors will be effective. First, make a sleep schedule and stick to it. Follow the same sleep and wake times. Avoid interruptions. Get good exercise daily. Avoid heavy meals just before going to bed. Avoid caffeinated drinks and smoking within 4 – 5 hours of your sleep time.

Of course, I am not saying smoking is allowed at other times!! Avoid watching TV in bed. Avoid electronic displays before going to bed. Reduce any stress and anxiety. Meditation is very helpful. You can even change the look and color of your bedroom to help you get good, uninterrupted restful sleep. If you have any symptoms of sleep apnoea, consult a doctor. It is definitely treatable. Getting enough sleep helps your body repair itself and makes it less vulnerable to lifestyle and heart diseases. As the Irish proverb goes “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”

by, Consultant Cardiothoracic and Vascular surgeon, Kauvery Hospital, Electronic City, Bengaluru

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