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Rest Assured: Quality and Quantity of Sleep Are a Key to Heart Health

Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t only about feeling rested. It’s also about taking care of your heart and health.


Research has proven that over time, poor or inadequate sleep is associated with high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, hardened arteries, arrhythmias, heart attack, diabetes, depression, dementia, obesity and weakened immunity.


Yet, according to a recent survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, one in three adults in the United States do not get the recommended minimum of seven hours of restorative sleep every night. That’s a lot of people walking around feeling fatigued (and maybe cranky), as well as an alarming proportion of the population at risk for serious health consequences.


“I wish more people were aware of the importance of sleep health,” says Harneet Walia, M.D., chief of clinical transformation at Baptist Health Medical Group. “We know poor sleep affects quality of life in many ways, including increased risk of accidents, excessive daytime sleepiness, brain fog, memory problems and mental health impairment. It can also have a significant adverse impact on hearth health.”



Harneet Walia, M.D., chief of clinical transformation at Baptist Health Medical Group


Always at the vanguard of innovation, Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute has long emphasized the importance of sleep. A part of Baptist Health Heart & Vascular Care, the Institute is one of the few places in the country where sleep medicine is included as part of its comprehensive cardiac program, according to Dr. Walia.


“Sleep is absolutely essential to good health,” she says. “When we talk about healthy lifestyle choices, we talk about diet, we talk about exercise. By the same token, we should be talking about sleep health.”


During Heart Month in February, the American Heart Association notes that an estimated 80 percent of cardiovascular disease could be prevented through lifestyle changes. Among those factors is getting more — and better — sleep.


There are many things that can influence the quality and quantity of sleep you get — from personal habits to certain medical conditions. Sleep specialists can help. But to begin, people must make sleep a priority, Dr. Walia says.


Counting Sheep and Getting Sleep

Sleeping is a basic human need, like eating, drinking and breathing. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of good-quality sleep regularly each night. But only one third of adults report getting that much shut-eye, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


Our culture treats sleep as if it’s a luxury or an indulgence,” Dr. Walia says. “Sleep deprivation is a badge of honor for some people — but it’s really not.”


Just because you are able to get by with less doesn’t mean you should. Inadequate sleep duration has been linked to increased coronary calcium, a component of plaque and contributor to heart attacks. In addition, blood levels of several inflammatory markers increase with poor sleep. In one study, for example, middle-aged women who got five or fewer hours of sleep per night over a 10-year period had a 30 percent greater risk for heart disease than women who averaged eight hours. A wide range of additional studies have demonstrated an association between poor sleep and hypertension, stroke, weight gain, diabetes and dementia.


People don’t get inadequate rest only because they are trying to meet family responsibilities or cram more work into their day. A recent survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that 91 percent of respondents said they lost sleep because they stayed up to binge-watch a show. Browsing and buying are also keeping people up at night, as 75 percent reported they stayed up past their bedtime to shop online.


No hit show, viral video or new pair of shoes (even on sale) is worth losing sleep over. “Sometimes people do not recognize the consequences of sleep deprivation because they kind of get used to it,” Dr. Walia says. “It can have far-reaching consequences.”


Quality Counts

A number of conditions can interfere with sleep quality, which is as important as quantity. For example, people with obstructive sleep apnea awaken frequently all night long, often without even knowing it, due to interruptions in their breathing. The disrupted intake of oxygen occurs when the airway becomes obstructed or collapses. The resulting surge in adrenaline activates the brain’s fight-or-flight response, causing blood pressure spikes and heart rate fluctuations.


Sleep apnea is diagnosed with an overnight study that can be conducted at either a sleep center or at home with portable monitoring equipment. The most frequently recommended treatment is CPAP — continuous positive airway pressure — which uses a machine that pumps air into the back of your throat to keep your airway open while you sleep. Studies show that when used consistently, it is very successful.


Other treatable sleep disorders include insomnia, a common disorder involving a difficulty in either falling or staying asleep; sleep irregularity, in which sleep patterns are inconsistent; circadian rhythm disorders, in which the body’s clock does not follow normal day and night patterns; movement disorders such as nighttime leg twitching and restless leg syndrome; and narcolepsy, a chronic neurological disorder that affects the brain's ability to control sleep-wake cycles.

The NIH estimates as many as 70 million people in the U.S. have a sleep disorder. “The data shows almost all sleep disorders are connected with heart health,” Dr. Walia says.


Seeking Help

If you have concerns about your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or daytime sleepiness, or if you suspect that you might have sleep apnea, talk to your primary care physician or seek the advice of a sleep specialist, Dr. Walia says. Your health depends on it.


Addressing sleep can be complex, however. “There are many different facets to sleep health including sleep duration, sleep quality, sleep efficiency, your habits around sleep and how sleep affects your quality of life,” Dr. Walia says. “We can troubleshoot the issues. All these factors should be a part of the conversation.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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