Sleepless in Scottsdale

Sleep and health: How sleep disorders can be bad for your heart

Getting some z’s is getting more difficult as I get older. For me, falling asleep isn’t the issue, but rather staying asleep.

I’ve fought the battle for several years, and have had to resort to taking medications to help me sleep. My friends used to refer to me as the “Ambien Queen.” It helped, but often left me feeling groggy in the morning. That is, until my insurance plan made note of my Ambien usage to my prior physician. Bye-bye Ambien.

I’m not alone in my sleeplessness. Many of my friends complain about sleep issues as well. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, women are much more likely to report sleep problems like not getting enough sleep or being sleepy throughout the day.

My lack of sleep leads to more disagreements between me and my husband. I find I’m less tolerant. I’m also more … um, forgetful. And, adding insult to injury, I’m also hungrier when I haven’t slept well.

Lack of sleep is not only annoying; it can be unhealthy as well. Research studies suggest that about 90 percent of insomniacs develop chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure or diabetes.

According to Harmeet Gill, MD, a board-certified sleep disorders specialist and medical director of the Banner Baywood Sleep Disorders Center, lack of sleep can even hurt your heart. Sleeping fewer than four hours can actually increase your chances of death from coronary artery disease (CAD).

“The average adult should sleep between seven and eight hours a night,” said Dr. Gill. “If you don’t get enough sleep, you could suffer from decreased performance, attention and concentration, and increased reaction time.”

Poor sleep habits are often associated with heart arrhythmias, increased chances of CAD and hypertension.

Heart conditions can also cause poor sleep. Patients with congestive heart failure may suffer from a form of sleep apnea called central sleep apnea. And people with CAD may have their sleep disrupted by angina.

Another possible culprit? Hormones. For women like me, hormonal changes can wreak havoc on sleep. Especially when hormone levels spike or drop, like during a pregnancy or menopause.

What can you do? First, talk to your doctor to pinpoint the source of your sleep problems. Lack of sleep and night wakings can be caused by many factors.

In the meantime, Dr. Gill suggests the following to help achieve better sleep habits:

  • Maintain a consistent bed time and wake time, even on weekends.
  • Maintain a quiet and comfortable bedroom environment. Avoid computer work, TV or other stimulating activity in the bedroom.
  • Avoid exercising within three hours of bed time.
  • And avoid having meals, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine close to bedtime.

Developing good sleep habits may not solve all your sleep problems, but they do create a foundation for improved sleep. After all, if you don’t snooze, you lose.

Also read: Sleeping like a baby when you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea

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