How Does Sleep Affect Cardiovascular Health?

The heart is one of the body’s most important organs, if not the most important. It pumps blood throughout the body and, without its steady beats, other organs and systems would inevitably fail. However, in order to stay strong, healthy, and capable of doing its job, the heart needs to be cared for properly. Caring for the heart involves eating right, getting regular exercise, and getting sufficient sleep. In fact, a lack of sleep, which can often be caused by various sleep conditions and disorders, can be very bad for the heart. It is for this reason that many people turn to sleep medicine to help them overcome their disorders and to get better sleep. This is a wise choice because getting insufficient sleep, no matter the reason or cause, is bad for the heart and, as a result, the body as a whole.

Sleep Deprivation

People may suffer from sleep deprivation, which, to put it simply, means not getting enough sleep, for a wide range of reasons. Some people may suffer from chronic insomnia. Others may work too hard and prioritize activities or responsibilities other than sleep. In any event, sleep deprivation is a serious problem.

For one thing, without proper sleep, the body does not have the chance it needs to rest and recuperate. Sleep is a time for the heart rate to slow down and for breathing rate and blood pressure to reduce. If proper sleep isn’t achieved, these important functions can’t occur properly either, which puts the body through more strain than necessary and, often, through more strain than it can handle. Cardiology professionals regularly see heart problems that have stemmed from a person simply not sleeping enough on a regular basis.

High Blood Pressure or Hypertension

When a person sleeps at night, their blood pressure drops significantly. This is a process known as “nocturnal dipping,” and it’s important when it comes to having a healthy, properly functioning heart and body. Sadly, individuals who do not get enough sleep, whether it’s due to their own behaviors or to the presence of a sleep disorder, often do not experience this “dipping” process, which means that their blood pressure stays elevated for longer than it should. This can lead to general high blood pressure or hypertension, both of which can be hard on the heart and may require the help of a cardiologist to address. Also, this problem can sometimes lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and other conditions, which further highlights the importance of sleep for heart health and just health in general.

Coronary Heart Disease

Many Americans suffer and die from a very serious condition known as coronary heart disease. While this disease can have many causes and risk factors, it occurs when a form of plaque builds up on the arteries, reducing the heart’s ability to pump oxygen through the body effectively. Those individuals who do not get enough sleep often suffer from increased plaque build-up, which, in turn, can lead to an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, as well as other concerning heart conditions. Furthermore, high blood pressure, which, as mentioned above, can also be caused by poor sleep, can lead to an increased risk for coronary heart disease. Thus, in this way, those who do not get adequate sleep increase their risk, in multiple ways, of developing coronary heart disease.

Angina (Chest Pain)

Angina is a formal term for chest pain, which is often caused by the blood not being able to flow through the blood vessels freely. Unfortunately, since inadequate sleep can restrict blood flow, it can sometimes lead to chronic chest pain. While angina is not, in and of itself, a serious cause for concern, it can be very uncomfortable and troubling for those who experience it. This can lead to heightened stress and anxiety, both of which can be bad for the heart and for overall physical and mental health. Furthermore, unexplained chest pain commonly lands people in the emergency room or their doctors’ offices, driving up medical bills without reason. And, in many cases, all of these issues can be remedied or avoided entirely just by getting adequate sleep. 

Obesity And Related Health Problems

Individuals who do not get enough sleep each night are more likely to be overweight or obese than those who do. While this is not to say that poor sleep causes obesity or weight gain, the two are definitely related. Also, individuals who struggle with maintaining a healthy weight are also at a higher risk for heart-related health problems since carrying extra weight puts excess strain on the heart. Furthermore, research also suggests that poor sleep may increase the likelihood of prediabetes and can worsen the symptoms of diabetes and make them harder to manage in those already diagnosed with the disorder. All of these health conditions can have a negative impact on heart health.

Heart Attacks And Strokes

Many Americans live in fear of heart attacks, and with good reason. These attacks, which can often come on suddenly, are very common in the United States, and they are often deadly. They occur when blood flow to the heart is blocked. And, while this can occur for many reasons, many healthcare professionals think that improper sleep throws off the natural rhythm of the heart and can thus contribute to blockages and an increased risk for heart attacks. In a similar vein, there is also a strong possibility that poor or inadequate sleep can increase the risk of a stroke, which occurs when blood flow to the brain is restricted.

What To Do About These Risks

Sadly, these are just a few of many potential risks to the heart that can occur when sleep is disrupted. Thus, those who are experiencing poor sleep, especially those who are already at a higher risk for heart conditions, are encouraged to visit their doctors. In the case of a sleep disorder, they can get a diagnosis and then work with their healthcare professionals to try and find a solution to get their sleep and their health back on track. In other cases, professionals can work with patients to establish healthy sleeping habits and patterns that can contribute to a healthier heart.

At Carolina Cardiology Associates of South Carolina, we care deeply about our patients and their heart health. And, because we know that heart health and sleep are closely tied together, we strive to help our patients have the best sleep possible. Reach out to us today for all your sleep-related concerns and to get started on the path toward a healthier heart. 


The experienced physicians at Carolina Cardiology Associates are committed to the health of every patient who walks through our doors. We understand the challenges of cardiovascular disease and will work with you to provide treatment, education, and a plan for the future to help you live your healthiest life.