A Guide to Heart Health and Sleep

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When you hear the word “heart” or read it on a page, what do you think of? Some might think back to making Valentine’s Day cards as a child, maybe their first heartbreak as a teenager, or in the worst case, losing a loved one to a heart-related illness. Hearts aren’t just symbolic – they keep us alive, and impact real lives each day. It’s time to talk about real, physical, blood-pumping, heart health.

So, how does heart health concern our readers? It may surprise you, but it concerns you in a big way!

What Is Heart Health?

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As defined by the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, “Cardiovascular health refers to the health of the heart and blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease is a group of diseases of the heart and blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, heart arrhythmias, and heart valve problems. There are several risk factors that lead to the development of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, tobacco use, and diabetes.” (1)

The Connection Between Heart Health and Sleep

Getting a good night’s rest is crucial for heart health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that adults who get less than seven hours of sleep a night are more likely to say they’ve experienced health issues, which can raise the risk for more serious health problems, like heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Obesity is one concern for heart problems, but it is something that can be avoided altogether when consuming the right foods and getting the right amount of sleep. This is especially true for the growing minds of kids and adolescents who need a little extra shut-eye, according to the CDC. This is because a lack of sleep can affect the area of the brain that controls hunger. (2)

While we’re on the topic of food, Trista Best, RD – Registered Dietitian at Balance One Supplements, warns that “the types of food which are high in bad fats, calories, sugar, and many other ingredients can be harmful when consumed in abundance. A poor diet brought on by stress interrupts sleep in two notable ways; weight and digestion. This can also rapidly lead to poor heart health.”

Another risk is type 2 diabetes, which the Mayo Clinic defines as “an impairment in the way the body regulates and uses sugar (glucose) as a fuel.” This type is commonly known as “adult-onset” diabetes, but the rise of childhood obesity has increased its risk in kids as well. Complications of type 2 diabetes can lead to heart and blood vessel disease, heart nerve damage leading to irregular nerve damage, and quite commonly, sleep apnea. (3)

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According to a response from Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D., on the Mayo Clinic’s website, sleep deprivation has the possibility of causing high blood pressure. Sleeping six hours or less may increase your blood pressure. An increase of blood pressure can prove to become a danger risk for heart disease down the road. (4) Functional health expert, Dr. Mindy Pelz, says that it’s important for blood pressure that two of those hours are in deep sleep because deep sleep cleanses the hypothalamus of the brain that regulates blood pressure.

Finally, let’s take a look at blood circulation. According to Nemours Children’s Health, the circulatory system consists of two types of blood vessels. Arteries are the ones that work to carry blood away from the heart, while veins carry blood back to it. This system is especially important because it transports things like oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body. (5) Poor circulation can be due to factors such as plaque buildup, blood clots or narrowed blood vessels. (6) For fighting poor circulation in your sleep, a responsive, memory foam mattress may help promote blood flow and offer pressure relief.

Types of Heart Disease and Risk Factors

Heart disease can manifest itself in many forms, and may not be diagnosed until instances of heart attack, arrhythmia, or heart failure. Below you’ll find the different types of heart disease and risks for them in relation to sleep. (7)

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Coronary Artery Disease

The New York State Department of Health defines coronary artery disease as “the build-up of plaque in the arteries supplying blood to the heart.” It’s the most common type of heart disease. (8)

Heart Attack

Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling light-headed or faint, pain or discomfort in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, or back. (9)

Heart Failure 

Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization for those over 65 years old, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, bloating, cough, or the urge to urinate during the night. Nighttime urination disrupts sleep, and shortness of breath can wake you up due to fluid buildup in the lungs, which is quite dangerous. (10)


According to a study in the Journal of Stroke, sleep disorders are highly common in those who are at risk of having a stroke. (11) Strokes can also result from different sleep irregularities, like daylight savings time, jet lag, or those who work night shifts according to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. (12)

Improving Your Sleep and Your Heart Health

Take a look at some of our expert tips and research that people can follow to improve their heart health and sleep!

Eat a healthy diet.

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This means healthy lifestyle choices too, like no smoking. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services compiled a shopping list for heart healthy foods (including fruits, vegetables, low-fat and fat free dairy products, 100% whole-grains, and proteins) that can be brought to the store. They recommend limiting saturated fats and sodium, and upping your intake of fiber. (13) Dr. Pelz points out that low fat and fat free often means more added sugar. She says that a diet low in bad inflammatory fats is good, but cautions that you don’t fall prey to fat free sugar laden foods. Those will contribute to heart problems.

Lisa Richards, nutritionist and author of the Candida Diet, offered her holistic perspective on sleep concerns in relation to diet. She recommends foods with natural melatonin, like “tart cherries, bananas, and oats.” (She also noted how bananas contain magnesium.) “Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant which can help the body and mind wind down before going to sleep. Magnesium can also be found in avocados, nuts, and even tofu.”

Exercise regularly.

The American Heart Association recommends adults get in at least “150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.” Increasing this amount of activity over time will create additional benefits as well. Doing something as little as spending less time sitting and doing light activities is also a better alternative to being sedentary for long periods of time. (14)

Adjust your sleep schedule.

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A 2006-2010 study of 88,026 people from the European Society of Cardiology found that heading to bed between 10 and 11p.m. just might be the sweet spot. Compared to earlier or later bedtimes, this period is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. The highest incidences of developing cardiovascular disease occurred in those who went to bed at midnight or later. (15)

Potential Treatments For Heart Disease

Sachin A. Shah, PharmD, Chief Scientific Officer at Flow Therapy stated, “I have seen patients treated with enhanced external counterpulsation, which significantly improved their chest pain burden, consequently improving their sleep quality.” And according to Cleveland Clinic, “Enhanced External Counterpulsation (EECP) may stimulate the openings or formation of collaterals (small branches of blood vessels) to create a natural bypass around narrowed or blocked arteries.” Perhaps this is something to look into when addressing heart disease concerns.


What sleep disorders can affect heart health?

There are a variety of sleep disorders that can affect heart health, including sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia. Additionally, research has shown that some neurological sleep disorders have been linked to high pressure and heart disease as well. Bottom line: Talk to your doctor if you’re struggling to sleep — your health may depend on it. 

Can sleeping too much affect heart health?

Though we know too little sleep can increase the likelihood of a heart attack or cardiovascular disease, there’s also evidence that too much sleep — regularly sleeping 10 hours or more a night — can also increase your risk for a heart attack. 

Does sleeping position affect heart health?

There hasn’t been a ton of research on how sleeping position impacts heart health, but a 2018 study showed that sleeping on the left side changes the position of the heart, which ultimately changed the readings on an ECG when compared to sleepers who were on their backs or right sides. 

Last Word From Sleepopolis

To close out, It’s important to note that we are not medical experts. Any cardiovascular and other health concerns should be addressed by a medical professional. Hopefully this piece has opened your eyes to how important your heart health is. Get your eight hours, maybe give some blood, and overall, take care of yourself!

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  1. Cardiovascular Health. National Association of Chronic Disease Directors.
  2. How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), High Blood Pressure, January 2021.
  3. Mayo Clinic Staff. Type 2 diabetes. Mayo Clinic.
  4. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D. Sleep deprivation: A cause of high blood pressure? Mayo Clinic.
  5. Heart and Circulatory System. Nemours Children’s Health, September 2018.
  6. Poor Circulation. Cleveland Clinic, Health Library, Disease and Conditions, September 2021.
  7. About Heart Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Heart Disease, September 2021.
  8. Types of Cardiovascular Disease. New York State Department of Health, December 2012.
  9. Heart Attack Symptoms, Risk, and Recovery. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Heart Disease, January 2021.
  10. Heart Failure. Cleveland Clinic, Health Library, Disease and Conditions.
  11. Dae Lim Koo, Hyunwoo Nam, Robert J. Thomas, Chang-Ho Yun. Sleep Disturbances as a Risk Factor for Stroke. Journal of Stroke, January 2018.
  12. Tianyi Huang, ScD, Sara Mariani, PhD, and Susan Redline, MD. Sleep Irregularity and Risk of Cardiovascular Events: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Volume 75, Issue 9, March 2020.
  13. Heart-Healthy Foods: Shopping List. United States (U.S.) Department of Health and Human Services, My Healthfinder, Heart Health, December 2021.
  14. American Heart Association Editorial Staff. American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. American Heart Association, Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults. April 2018.
  15. Bedtime linked with heart health. European Society of Cardiology, ScienceDaily, November 2021.
Carley Prendergast

Carley Prendergast

Carley is a former Staff Writer at Sleepopolis. She is a Certified Sleep Science Coach who wrote news, sleep health content, and managed our newsletter.