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by Alicia Lawrence

A lack of sleep takes a toll on the body. Not only does it make you feel groggy, cause undereye circles and slow your reaction time, it also can be harmful to your health in the long run. A shortage of sleep has been linked to many major health conditions, including heart disease. Here’s what can happen to your heart if you don’t get enough sleep.

sleep deprivation

A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that people getting more than seven hours of sleep per night increased the heart benefits of four other heart-healthy habits: exercise, healthy diet, not smoking and moderate alcohol consumption. In the study, researchers found that those who adhered to those four heart helpers decreased their risk for a fatal heart attack by 67 percent. However, adding in the right amount of sleep increased that number to 83 percent.

Even without taking the additional factors into consideration, getting enough sleep alone reduced the risk of a fatal heart attack by 43 percent.

Why is sleep so important for your heart? During sleep, your body works on repairing heart and blood vessels from wear and tear that happened during the day, says the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute. It’s vital to get sufficient sleep for your body to work on these crucial repairs and help your heart function at its peak capacity.

What’s Interrupting Your Sleep?

Many factors can get in the way of a good night’s sleep, including insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea. Snoring is a sign of possible sleep apnea, in which a person occasionally stops breathing during the night. This takes a major toll on cardiovascular health, according to the American Heart Association. A person with sleep apnea can experience pauses in breathing anywhere from five to 30 times per hour, causing the sleeper to gasp for air and interrupting a full night’s sleep.

The good news is, there is help for those suffering from sleep apnea. A treatment called continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, keeps air passages open during sleep. The patient wears a mask during the night that keeps breathing passages from shutting down. A study in Circulation: Heart Failure, published by the American Heart Association, found cardiovascular improvements for CPAP users after six months. In the study, heart abnormalities associated with sleep apnea, including increased mass, thickening of the heart wall and reduced pumping ability, all returned to near-normal measurements.

How to Improve Your Sleep

Even if you don’t have a medical condition interrupting your sleep, there are ways you can ensure a better night’s sleep, says Harvard Health Publications.

  1. Make sure to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day; a regular routine can help you fall asleep faster.
  2. Reserve your bed only for sleeping. In this way, you associate bed with rest, not with stimulating activities such as watching TV or playing video games.
  3. Get up if you are having trouble sleeping. Tossing and turning may only increase your stress level. Take a walk or read until you feel sleepy again.
  4. Limit alcohol consumption, and do not smoke. If you are having trouble quitting an addiction, visit a rehab facility for help.
  5. Exercise in the late afternoon.

Taking these steps are all great ways to get a good night’s sleep and improve your heart health.

BIO: Alicia Lawrence is a content coordinator for a tech company and writes for Examiner.com and AskMissA.com.   Her husband is a personal trainer and as a family they make it a top priority to live healthy.

Mark Dilworth - Her Fitness Hut
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Mark Dilworth - Her Fitness Hut

Mark is a Lifestyle Weight Management Specialist and since 2006 has owned Her Fitness Hut, My Fitness Hut, Sports Fitness Hut and Your Fitness University.

Mark has helped thousands of clients and readers make lifestyle changes that lead to better long-term health, which includes acceptable body fat and ideal body weight.He does not recommend fad diets, quick weight loss gimmicks, starvation diets, weight loss pills, fat burner supplements and the like.
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