Sleep is an integral part of our lives; it helps our body recover and rejuvenate after a long tiring day. However, inadequate sleep is becoming a serious health concern in modern times, resulting in stress, fatigue, loss of concentration, and even severe complications such as diabetes and hypertension, among others.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, poor sleep quality became widely prevalent among the general population in India, a study published in the National Library of Medicine stated. At the same time, there’s also an increased incidence of heart ailments among Indians, making us question the possible link between the two.
“In India, there is an alarming increase in heart diseases in the young. The disease is much more severe and complications are more in the younger generation, compared to older people. Added to the disease burden is the loss of productive hours and livelihood. This disturbing trend is mainly because of a deteriorating lifestyle, and sleep deprivation is a major part of it,” Dr Rajesh T R, Consultant Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeon, Kauvery Hospital, Electronic City (Bangalore) said.
Agreeing, Dr Amit Bhushan Sharma, Associate Director and Unit Head- Cardiology Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon said that sleeplessness is directly linked to heart health. Explaining how sleep is associated with the functioning of the heart, he said, “During the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep stages, your heart rate slows and breathing stabilises. This is also the time when your blood pressure drops. All these changes combined help the heart to balance out the stress your body has gathered throughout the day.”
But, when we don’t sleep enough, we invite the possibilities of health risks such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, heart attack, obesity, and diabetes, experts said.
People who clock six to seven hours of sleep a night had the lowest chance of dying from a heart attack or stroke when compared with those who got less or more sleep, according to a study being presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 70th Annual Scientific Session.
“BP shoots up and damages the cardiac system; and there is endothelial dysfunction which is directly related to hypertension. If we do not give ourselves adequate rest, this part of hypertension will manifest in the form of coronary artery diseases, which is blockages,” Dr Abhijit Kulkarni, Senior Consultant Cardiologist, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru said.
Dr Keshava R, Director – Cardiology, Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road, Bangalore added that apart from not sleeping enough, conditions such as sleep apnea, too, affect one’s heart health. “It is associated with low oxygen supply during snoring. This pushes up the blood pressure and leads to high blood pressure and abnormal heartbeat. This can lead to heart attacks, stroke, etc,” he said.
Calling it an “unhealthy habit” just like “drinking less water and skipping meals,” Dr Sharma highlighted the erratic sleep patterns among the youngsters. “Teens, especially, stay glued to their screens all night and harm their sleep schedule which takes away their motivation to be physically active and, as a result, results in poor heart health in the long run. Unhealthy food choices are another reason that harms the heart significantly,” he said.
Also, have you noticed many people experiencing a heart attack in the early morning hours of the winter months? “The peaks of hypertension are also noted to be in the middle of the night and in the early hours of the morning when we are supposed to have deep sleep. A person who is not able to sleep is anxious and undergoing lots of stress or has some psychological issues. All of these indirectly influence the risk of heart diseases and occurrence of heart attack,” Dr Kulkarni explained.
However, it’s a two-way street. Heart ailments, too, can compromise your sleep quantity and quality significantly. “When a person sleeps, there’s a fluid shift from the leg to the heart. If the heart is not able to cope with this extra fluid, this can lead to congestion of fluids in the lungs. In this case, the patient may wake up with a breathing problem. This condition is called Orthopnea,” Dr Keshava said.
In orthopnea, Dr Kulkarni added, people “sleep with the support of 4 to 5 pillows and make them inclined to 45 degrees and then manage to sleep. That is because when the heart is pumping less and you assumed a recommended position, all the fluids that are present in the legs and other parts of the body will get into the central system and the heart won’t be able to handle that and it goes back to the lungs.”
“The second condition is when a person goes to sleep, he/she is unable to fall asleep and feels breathless. This is called Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea (PND). These two are features of heart failure,” Dr Keshava explained.
Sharing that one must sleep for at least 7 to 9 hours every day, Dr Rajesh suggested the following tips to get a restful slumber.
*Make a sleep schedule and stick to it. Follow the same sleeping and waking up times.
*Get good exercise daily.
*Avoid heavy meals just before going to bed.
*Avoid caffeinated drinks within 4-5 hours of your sleep time.
*Avoid electronic displays before going to bed.
*Reduce any stress and anxiety. Meditation is very helpful.
*You can even change the look and colour of your bedroom to help you get good, uninterrupted restful sleep.
*If you have any symptoms of sleep apnea, consult a doctor. It is definitely treatable.
(Next in the series: What role do pillows, mattresses play in determining your quality of sleep?)