My husband takes what we call “dad naps.” He can fall asleep anywhere, anytime.
He’s an early riser, spends the first 90 minutes of the day running or working out… and then works long hours as a first responder.
So it’s not unusual for us to find him asleep, sitting upright, arms crossed… dozing on a bench… in the passenger seat of the car… or on the couch as soon as the TV is turned on in the evening.
When one of us comes across him in this state we just look at each other and laugh. We’ve come to expect it. And even though he can fall asleep almost anywhere when it’s not bedtime… falling asleep for the night is an entirely different story. When it’s bedtime, he lays there wide awake.
As people age, they tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger.
Sadly, this lack of sleep could be doing more than leaving you frustrated, cranky and exhausted. It could also cause fatty buildup that hardens your arteries and skyrockets your heart risk.
Nobody needs that… but certainly not dear old dad. Researchers found that throughout life, men are twice as likely as women to suffer a major heart problem.
Here’s what we know about the link between bad sleep and atherosclerosis… and what you (men and women!) can do to protect your heart.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley analyzed the data of more than 1,600 middle-aged and older adults to isolate the effect of sleep quality on heart health.
After controlling for all outside factors (age, gender and body mass) and poring through results of blood tests, scores of plaque buildup in the arteries and sleep measures, the outcome was clear…
The results definitively linked disrupted sleep patterns to higher concentrations of circulating inflammatory factors in the blood.
Specifically, the team found that poor sleep led to a rise in both white blood cells known as monocytes and neutrophils, which are key players in atherosclerosis — the plaque that hardens your arteries.
Put simply, when you don’t sleep well, your inflammation goes up… which increases the amount of plaque in your arteries… which restricts blood flow to vital organs and sets the stage for major heart problems.
Now that we know why poor sleep leads to heart problems, what can you do to protect yourself?
My recommendation is to attack the problem on three fronts.
#1 — Improve sleep quality
First, you need to take steps right away to improve your sleep quality as much as possible. For a better night’s sleep:
- Set a regular sleep routine and stick to it. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.
- Skip the blue light for at least an hour before bed. This includes the TV, computer and telephone.
- Try to get at least some exercise each day.
- Get out in the sunlight early in the day.
- Avoid alcohol and stimulants, like caffeine, toward the end of the day.
- If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and try something relaxing like reading a book or listening to soft music in dim lighting. Go back to bed only when you’re sleepy.
- Get screened for sleep apnea if you find yourself excessively tired during daytime hours or snore.
#2 — Balance inflammation
Since we now know that poor sleep goes hand-in-hand with higher levels of inflammation, it’s vital to work to keep those levels in check. A few healthy ways to balance inflammation include:
- Eat fewer inflammatory foods like red meats, sugary foods, saturated fats and refined oils and carbs.
- Eat a colorful, well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and veggies.
- Add in supplements that promote healthy inflammation.
- Manage stress with mind-body approaches like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises.
#3 — Support healthy blood vessels
Finally, if you haven’t been sleeping well, you now know that your blood vessels are under attack. You should take steps right away to keep them healthy and flexible so they can send plenty of oxygenated blood throughout your whole body.
And I just want to say… Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there. I hope you enjoy your weekend and your family treats you like a King!
Most of all, get some extra sleep… your heart is depending on it!