February is celebrated as American Heart Month and is a great reminder to consider your sleep habits—since healthy sleep patterns help support a healthy heart—and if there are any ways to improve your routine, whether that means using sleep aid such as ear plugs, or a modifying your sleep environment.
Among the important and commonly known factors in keeping your heart heathy are getting plenty of exercise, eating healthy, and taking supplements to strengthen your heart. But there’s one tactic that’s equally as important that’s less talked about, and that’s getting good, quality sleep. It’s often discussed that getting quality sleep is good for your energy and overall health, but it’s also good for more than that—including keeping your heart healthy!
Your heart is critical to proper functioning in your body, sending blood and oxygen throughout your body to help all organs and processes function at their best. When you’re not taking care of your heart, you’re not taking care of your body. Think of it this way: if you’re not eating healthy, drinking water, and exercising, your body as a whole won’t be as healthy as it can. Similarly for your heart, if you’re not taking steps to care for your heart properly, it won’t function at its best, which can cause a host of problems throughout your body.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found a correlation between sleep irregularity and cardiovascular disease. After tracking the sleep cycles and activity of participants of the study, researchers found that “those with the most irregular sleep duration and variable bedtimes had more than double the risk of developing heart disease, compared to those with less variability in sleep duration and consistent bedtimes.”1
In addition, insomnia and sleep apnea, two common sleep conditions, have been linked to obesity, heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Poor sleep habits can even worsen inflammation, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more.2
For the average adult, getting enough sleep means getting between 7-9 hours per night. But it’s not just the amount of sleep but also the quality of the sleep you’re getting that’s important. The habits you keep have an effect on your sleep patterns, and some can be easily altered to help get you into a better sleep routine.
- Alcohol: Despite a commonly-held believe that having a drink can help you fall asleep at night, alcohol actually affects sleep in a negative way. Late-night libations can disrupt sleep patterns and prevent you from entering deep and REM stages of sleep, not allowing your body to go through the necessary cycles of sleep that rejuvenate your body and prepare it for the next day.
- Eating late: Similar to alcohol, eating late at night can affect sleep cycles. If your body is still working on digesting the foods you ate late in the evening, it means it’s working when it should be resting. This can cause issues falling asleep and prevent the deep and REM sleep stages.
- Blue light exposure: Blue light, like the kind emitted from screens on cell phones, computers, televisions, and tablets, affects sleep by disturbing your natural circadian rhythm. It suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that your body produces to help you fall asleep. Wearing blue light glasses in the evening while using electronic devices is a great first step, but avoiding blue light altogether a few hours before bedtime is best.
Now that you know how to prepare your body for sleep, another thing to consider is your sleep environment. The setting where you’re sleeping can affect your quality of sleep. Your sleep environment is something you can control most, but not all of. Even when you’re at home, disruptions like light streaming in through a crack in the blinds or noisy cars passing by can keep you awake. If you live in a building that shares walls—think an apartment or condo, or even when visiting a hotel—you could hear neighbors when you’re trying to sleep. Some individuals don’t work regular daytime hours and sleep when others are typically awake and the sun is up.
One specific situation where you can’t always control your sleep environment is when traveling. Most people can relate to a situation when traveling on a plane or a long drive in the car when a bit of shut-eye would be ideal, yet the noise and light all but prevent that from happening.
For any of those situations where your sleep environment isn’t ideal, finding a way to adapt to your environment can help you get the quality sleep that you need—and deserve. A sleep aid is a great option to block out outside noise or light. Two easy options which are quick and easy to use or bring when traveling are a sleep mask and ear plugs. These pieces are can be your best friend when you’re in any situation where you have light or sound around when you’re trying to sleep.
Of course, normal ear plugs don’t always fit everyone. While typical ear plugs may work for some people, others find it hard to keep them inside their ears. These comfort ones contour to your ears, making it easier for them to say in.
With how busy we seem to find ourselves these days, at times it feels as though sleep can be a luxury. While getting enough sleep can be hard at times—whether getting to bed at a decent time, needing to get up early to start preparing for another day, or having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, making sure to get enough sleep is vital to your heart health and should be made a priority.
- Harvard Health Publishing: Will a good night’s sleep help my heart?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health?