Don't stay up late, and set an alarm! Sleeping right key to a healthy heart

Akshay (name changed ), a 24 year old lean and fit marathon runner who is not victim to hypertension, diabetes or smoking, suffers a cardiac arrest early morning at the gym. The only high risk factor found in his medical history was lack of sleep. 

According to a recent statement from the American Heart Association, an irregular sleep pattern (one that varies from the usual seven-to-nine hour sleep norm) is linked to a host of cardiovascular risks, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease. Short sleep — less than six hours per night — appears to be hazardous to your heart health. Sleep-deprived people have higher blood levels of stress hormones and substances that induce inflammation, a key player in cardiovascular disease called CRP.

Usually, 10 pm to 3 am is when the body repairs itself and when you miss sleeping during these golden hours, oxidative damage from stress, pollution and diet goes unrepaired, which leads to increased insulin resistance, carcinogenesis, brain strokes and heart attacks.

Insufficient sleep may also lead to obesity. "Short sleepers" tend to snack more and eat more food in general. Insufficient sleep may impair various brain reward systems, including those that govern energy intake, judgment, and choice of food. 

High blood pressure, can also be traced to insomnia. Insomnia — difficulty falling or staying asleep — affects up to a third of people at some point in their lives. In addition, some people with insomnia remain in a state of hyperarousal, a psychological state marked by anxiety and feeling "on edge." This can lead to blood pressure problems.

Too much sleep might not be good for the heart either. Researchers found that people who regularly slept for nine or more hours per night had more calcium buildup in their heart artery walls and stiffer leg arteries than those who normally slept seven hours per night.

Prolonged daytime sleepiness or nighttime sleep is associated with a disorder known as hypersomnia. This is associated with a disease called obstructive sleep apnea and is characterised by a repetitive pattern in which a person briefly stops breathing as the tongue or throat tissues block the airway, sometimes hundreds of times a night. Sleep apnea, which is often associated with obesity, is known to raise the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke . 

Oversleeping can lead to thyroid disease, kidney and liver disease, depression and dementia. People who get too much or too little sleep have a higher mortality rate. 

Almost everyone has trouble sleeping once in a while. But if occasional episodes of poor sleep escalate into an unhealthy nighttime routine, check your habits. Try basic sleep hygiene strategies like going to bed and waking up at the same time each day or keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and comfortable. If sleeplessness stems from psychological or emotional issues, talk to your physician about cognitive behavioural therapy. It is a safe and effective approach to chronic sleep disorders. 

Sleep periods that are neither too short nor too long may be important to keep us healthy. So don't stay up late and set an alarm.

Amit Bhushan Sharma, Associate Director and Unit Head Interventional Cardiology Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon

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