There are a number of factors that contribute to your heart health. But while we all have a general understanding of how our diet and activity level comes into play, what about when you’re inactive? According to medical experts, something you’re doing at night could be impacting your health and increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. Read on to find out what you may want to change about your nightly routine.
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In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, as well as people of most ethnic and racial groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As heart disease puts so many lives at risk and incurs costs of nearly $363 billion annually (just in the U.S.), researchers are investigating additional contributing factors, which could be as simple as not brushing your teeth or flossing at night. Though more research is needed to determine the exact relationship between your pearly whites and your heart, several studies have shown that poor oral health is linked with higher rates of cardiovascular disease, according to Harvard Health Publishing. As it turns out, another nightly habit may also be associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
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If you are tossing and turning at night, it could be putting your heart health at risk, according to Katie Tomaschko, MS, RDN, owner of her own private practice in Buffalo, New York. This has to do with your blood pressure, which decreases when sleeping soundly, she said.
“If we are having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, our blood pressure is sure to rise,” Tomaschko said. “This increase in blood pressure is not good for our cardiovascular health, thus resulting in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Scientific studies have also shown that insomnia—the sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall or stay asleep—is associated with a number of cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, coronary heart disease, and heart failure.
For those who already have heart disease, restless nights could be more of a concern. A study published April 7 in Sleep Advances found that insomnia could increase your risk of recurrent major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE), including cardiovascular death, stroke, and heart failure, among others.
Study investigators included 1,082 patients who had either a heart attack or a procedure to open blocked arteries. At the beginning of the study, 45 percent of patients had insomnia, and 24 percent said they had used a sleep medication during the past week.
Over an average follow-up period of 4.2 years, 364 occurrences of MACE were observed in 225 patients. When comparing patients that had insomnia with those that didn’t, the condition was found to be significantly associated with repeat heart events—even after accounting for cardiovascular risk factors, comorbidities, and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
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Considering the results, investigators also suggested proactively assessing those with coronary heart disease for insomnia, which may help these patients manage the condition and future major heart events. And according to lead author Lars Aeastebøl Frøjd, a medical student at the University of Oslo, Norway, relevant treatment approaches require more research.
“Further research is needed to examine whether insomnia treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and digital applications are effective in this patient group,” Frøjd said in a press release outlining findings.
While the present study identified the prevalence of insomnia in those who already have heart disease, Tomaschko also highlighted the general link between poor sleep quality and the risk of depression, anxiety, and fatigue. However, improving your sleep hygiene can help to improve symptoms of insomnia and your overall health.
“Adopting lifestyle changes such as increasing physical activity, not eating too much too close to bedtime, and establishing healthier eating habits are all great ways to try and alleviate insomnia,” she said, citing meditation, reading, and limited electronic use before sleep as proactive measures.
But if your sleep habits are interfering with your daily life, you should consult your doctor or a healthcare provider. “If all else fails, there is nothing wrong with seeking over-the-counter medications or even prescription medications through your doctor as a short-term, temporary solution to insomnia,” Tomaschko said.
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