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Take heart: Better sleep can be yours

health, 2019

When most of us think about heart health, we think about exercise and eating right. But there’s another daily part of our lives we may not connect to our hearts: sleep.

“Poor sleep affects cardiovascular health in many ways,” explains Dr. Kamaljit Atwal, DO, a sleep medicine specialist at Adventist Health Portland’s Sleep Clinic. “Any sleep disorder that disturbs sleep — such as sleep apnea, periodic limb movements, insomnia and lack of sleep — can affect cardiovascular health.”

Dr. Atwal reports that several studies have shown poor sleep can increase your risk of:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Advancing coronary artery disease
  • Difficult-to-control congestive heart failure
  • Arrhythmia
  • Stroke

Even knowing how important sleep is to our heart health, it can be really hard to get high-quality sleep. Interestingly enough, it takes more than just hitting the hay to get a good night’s sleep. In fact, a good night depends a lot on choices you make all day.

Making sleep a priority all day

Surprisingly enough, good sleep starts in the morning and goes all day. Dr. Atwal’s daytime tips to encourage a more restful night include:

  • Waking at the same time each morning.
  • Exposing yourself to bright light as you’re waking.
  • Avoiding long naps as well as naps later than midafternoon.
  • Exercising during the day, at least several hours before bedtime.
  • Eating your heaviest meals earlier in the day.

Then, as evening approaches, you can take additional steps to help you rest easy all night. Dr. Atwal’s evening tips include:

  • Stick to a consistent bedtime.
  • Dim your lights and stay away from screens close to bedtime (yes, put away your laptop and phone!).
  • Avoid caffeine, tobacco and alcohol as bedtime nears.

Creating a restful space

Dr. Atwal reminds her sleep patients to make sure their sleeping space is a sleep-promoting space. Creating a bedroom that helps cue your mind and body for sleep isn’t hard to do, if you know what to focus on. She recommends:

  • Keeping your bedroom clutter-free.
  • Encouraging pets to sleep somewhere else.
  • Making your bed with cotton sheets and comfortable bedding.
  • Wearing breathable pajamas.
  • Setting your bedroom temperature to 62–68F.
  • Using a lavender spray in your room.
  • Turning on a calming nature-sounds machine.

You can also create a restful head space by writing down worries and to-do items, stretching, and taking a warm bath before bed.

When you need a sleep specialist

Some people struggle with more than just staying up too late. Dr. Atwal offers an easy acronym to help you know if you need to see a sleep specialist. Just remember STOP:

  • Do you Snore?
  • Are you Tired in the daytime?
  • Do you have Observed apneas (stopping breathing) at night?
  • Do you have blood Pressure issues?

Other risk factors include having a body mass index (BMI) over 30, being over age 50, and having a larger neck (over 17 inches for males and 16 inches for females).

If you have risk factors or answer yes to two or more of the STOP questions, you should talk with your primary care provider about your sleep issues. Depending on your insurance, you may be able to go straight to the Adventist Health Portland Sleep Clinic.

Sleeping your way to a healthy heart

You don’t have to lose sleep over your heart health. But you may need to make some changes to your sleep health to keep your heart working at its best.

If you’d like to learn more about how sleep and heart health are connected, Dr. Atwal and cardiologist Dr. Erin Blehm, MD, are presenting a free class, Sleep and Heart Health, on Feb. 13, 2019, at 6 p.m. Learn more and register online.