It’s 2 a.m., and you’ve been tossing and turning for hours trying to get to sleep. As morning draws near, you dread the next day’s exhaustion, grogginess, and potential headache. If that sounds familiar, you are not alone; insomnia and sleeplessness are two increasingly common disruptions faced by adults in the U.S.
The day-after effects of a sleepless night – whether you stayed up on purpose or because you couldn’t sleep – are well-documented. Mood changes, trouble with thinking and concentration, and increased risk for car accidents are among the immediate, short-term effects of sleep deprivation. But now, new research published by the American Heart Association suggests that sleeping 7-8 a day and not having frequent insomnia may help lower the risk of heart complications.
Tens of millions of Americans experience chronic sleeplessness, which can be triggered by a variety of factors. The most common causes include stress, anxiety, excessive alcohol or caffeine use, eating too much before bed, poor sleeping habits, and traveling or work schedule. Occasional sleeplessness, though unpleasant, isn’t too harmful. A sleepless night here and there – as long as it doesn’t turn into a pattern – can be normal and even expected.
Health Repercussions from Lack of Sleep
Problems emerge when these difficulties become chronic, disrupting a person’s ability to fall asleep at least three nights a week, for three months or more. Past studies have found that poor sleep can elevate a person’s risk for many chronic conditions, such as diabetes and stroke. Sleep-deprived men and women, research shows, tend to experience a decreased interest in sex and have lower libidos. Additionally, sleep deprivation – which obstructs critical biological processes like glucose metabolism, inflammation, and immunity – has repeatedly been associated with a host of cardiovascular issues, including high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease.
Adding to the growing evidence that poor sleep habits can yield serious health effects, investigators analyzed 10 years’ worth of data from more than 400,000 UK Biobank participants – an ongoing longitudinal study examining the relationships between the environment, genes, and lifestyle. The participants, aged 37 to 73, self-reported sleep behaviors via a questionnaire that included sleep duration, presence of insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and snoring.
After adjusting for potential confounders like medication use, diabetes, high blood pressure, and genetic variables, results suggested that participants with the healthiest sleeping habits had a significantly lower risk of heart failure compared to people with poorer sleeping habits. They also found that heart failure risk was 8 percent lower in people that woke up early, 12 percent lower among those who slept seven to eight hours each night, and 34 percent lower in participants that reported no daytime sleepiness.
“Our findings highlight the importance of improving overall sleep patterns to help prevent heart failure,” said Lu Qi, M.D., Ph.D., one of the authors of the study. They also noted, however, that other unmeasured variables could also have influenced their findings. Other factors, such as diet and lifestyle habits, are known to also contribute to cardiovascular disease.
But the overall message of the findings is clear: lack of sleep can increase your risk for a host of serious health problems, including heart disease. Getting enough quality sleep can protect both your physical and mental health and reduce the risk of being involved in workplace or driving accidents.
If you are having difficulty sleeping and worried about your long term health, consider a comprehensive sleep supplement with ingredients proven to increase sleep quality and duration for deep, restorative sleep.
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