It was fantastic to learn that Bensons for Beds’ customers have helped to raise over £7m pounds for the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The partnership between BHF and Bensons is good for everyone; customers are able to donate their old beds for collection, and the BHF raises critical funds for life-saving research into heart and circulatory diseases.
But the links between Bensons’ goals for Sleep Wellness, and the BHF’s goals to support heart health, are more closely linked than you might have thought..
Could better sleep improve your heart health?
There is growing evidence to suggest that healthy sleep patterns could help to protect against heart disease:
●Sleep time: Adults sleeping for more than 6 and fewer than 9 hours tend to have better heart health. Studies suggest that routinely sleeping for fewer than 6 hours per night increases the risk of heart disease by about 20%.
●Sleep timing: Research suggests that the risks of heart attack are higher for those working nights and early shifts, which disrupt the body clock. Rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease tend to be lower for those people who avoid ‘social jet lag’, by maintaining a similar wake up time during the week and weekends.
Sleep is likely to influence heart and circulatory health in multiple ways, including impacts on biology, behaviour and mental health:
●Inflammation: Heart disease occurs when fatty deposits called plaques build up, and can block the arteries which supply blood to the heart. White blood cells collect at the plaque and cause inflammation, which accelerates damage. Regular, good quality sleep has anti-inflammatory effects, so may help to protect the arteries.
●Blood pressure: during deep sleep, in the first part of the night, blood pressure drops by 10-20%. This dipping is thought to allow the heart and circulatory system to recover from the strains of the day.
●Weight control: after disrupted sleep, appetite increases and we are more likely to give into unhealthy cravings for unhealthy food. Food consumed at night is more likely to be stored as fat that food consumed during the day; increasing the risks of obesity and diabetes.
●Mental health: a sleepless night can increase anxiety levels by 60% and make us more vulnerable to low moods. Being in a state of stress, or depression, is a risk factor for heart disease.
Unfortunately, heart disease patients are at greater risk of disrupted sleep than the general population. There are multiple reasons for this, including the stress of coping with a chronic condition. Higher rates of inflammation, for example in response to a heart attack, can also interfere with sleep. If you are overweight, you’re also at higher risk of sleep apnoea.
If you are a patient and you are worried about a sleep problem, please ask your medical team for help. There are lots of effective treatment options.
What can you do to both protect your heart, and your sleep?
The good news is that many of the things that you could do to improve your sleep will also have benefits for heart health.
●Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle: Aim to get out of bed at the same time, to within an hour, as often as possible. If you work shifts, simply get into a routine on rest days as often as you can. This will help sync your body clocks, and prepare for sleep at the same time each night.
●Move regularly: Regular physical activity protects against heart disease, improves mood and also helps people to fall asleep, and enjoy better sleep quality.
●Meditation: Several different types of meditation have been found to help people to regulate their emotions, to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. One 5 year study of heart disease patients found that regular meditation increased survival rates.
●Tackle sources of stress: Sometimes re-framing the stress we’re under, by focusing on how you’ve coped with similar situations in the past, or getting perspective, can help. Sometimes, the only way to reduce the stress is to take action to change the situation you’re in, for example, talking to your partner or your boss, to relieve the pressure.
And a note from me..
I am proud to be one of the many scientists who has conducted research funded by the BHF, and will be rowing around Britain this summer to raise funds for the BHF. My PhD, published back in 2013, explored why work stress raises the risks of heart disease, and what can be done to reduce this risk. A key finding was that regularly practicing mindfulness meditation can help people to feel more in control, and to experience more positive emotions, at work. People who meditated regularly reported lower stress, better wellbeing and improved sleep. This research inspired my passion for sleep science!