MADISON (WKOW) -- Most of us know heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. And we've probably heard about healthy lifestyle choices that can help reduce your risk.
But a Madison doctor brings up one that not everyone has thought about: getting a good night's sleep.
Dr. Kelly McDonnell is a cardiac electrophysiologist with SSM Health. She says a 2008 study out of the University of Chicago found a link between shortened sleep and increased coronary artery calcification, which is a good predictor of coronary artery disease. Another study by the American Heart Association in 2011 showed poor quality sleep is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure. That can cause heart disease and stroke.
Dr. McDonnell explains sleep helps your heart work more efficiently. It lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. She says one night of inadequate sleep can make you feel "off," and give you a higher blood pressure. Doing that over a long period of time can increase your risk of heart problems.
Dr. McDonnell also says good sleep protects your heart by decreasing your level of stress hormones, which can be hard on your heart's muscle.
So what is the right amount of sleep each night? Dr. McDonnell says adults need at least seven hours per night. While too little sleep can be bad, so can too much sleep. The Nurses' Health Study showed women who slept nine to 11 hours a night were 38% more likely to have coronary heart disease than women who slept eight hours, according to SSM Health.
If you have sleep disorders like sleep apnea, that can cause problems too. When you stop breathing during sleep, your blood oxygen levels go down, which can cause your heart rhythm to flutter, doctors warn.
Here are some tips for getting a better night's sleep from the American Heart Association:
· Exercise: Try getting adequate exercise. According to the American Heart Association’s 2013 exercise standards, it is important to schedule in 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise at least three to four times per week.
· Avoid excess caffeine: Avoid excess stimulants, such as caffeine, particularly before bed as they may keep you awake.
· Establish an evening routine: Have an evening routine of preparing for bed that includes turning off electronic devices and having soothing activities such as a hot shower or bath. Drinking chamomile or herbal sleepy-time tea can also be helpful, as can reading, praying or meditating.