When I was younger, waking up on a Saturday at 8:00 a.m. seemed like the crack of dawn…
But now, if I’m asleep past 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, I feel like I’ve slept in. By the time my kids wake up, I’ve done a full day’s worth of work.
So… I guess it’s time to add sleep to the running list of things that are getting harder as I get older… jeez that list is getting long! (And, of course, I’ll need to put my glasses on to read it…)
Older people often sleep less deeply and wake up more often throughout the night.
I hear this complaint frequently from friends when they hit their mid-40s. This mirrors my own experience as well!
Sadly, this lack of sleep could be doing more than leaving you drowsy… it could also be causing the fatty buildup that hardens your arteries and increases your risk of heart attack.
A new study revealed a link between poor sleep and atherosclerosis, and also offers insight on how you can protect your heart…
Can poor sleep patterns cause heart disease?
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley analyzed the data of more than 1,600 middle-aged and older adults to determine the effect of sleep quality on heart health.
And after controlling for all outside factors (like age, gender and body mass) and reviewing 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.
According to the researchers, by revealing this link with chronic inflammation, the findings revealed us the missing middleman that is “brokering the bad deal between fragmented sleep and the hardening of blood vessels.”
Put simply, when your sleep is regularly disrupted, your inflammation spikes, increasing the amount of plaque in your arteries and your risk of heart disease is higher.
Better sleep and better heart health
Now that we know why poor sleep can lead to heart problems, what can you do to protect yourself when you’ve been spending too many nights tossing and turning?
Well, 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 screen, including the TV, computer and smartphone, at least an hour before bed.
- 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.
- If you find yourself excessively tired during daytime hours or have problems with snoring, get screened for sleep apnea.
#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.
- Get regular exercise
- Add in supplements that promote healthy inflammation levels.
- Manage stress with mind-body approaches like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises.
#3 — Support healthy blood vessels
Finally, if you haven’t been sleeping as well as you should, you need to take steps right away to support your heart and your blood vessels to keep them flexible.
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