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Less sleep may lead to heart disease

Sleep is the latest factor to be associated with coronary heart disease. Dr Anjali Mukherjee offers tips on getting a sound sleep.

india Updated: Jan 23, 2007 17:12 IST
Dr Anjali Mukerjee (HT City)
Dr Anjali Mukerjee (HT City)

Scrimping on sleep to watch a late night movie or complete some pending work might seem like a good way to pack more into your day. But did you know that unintentionally you’re inviting a range of significant health problems?

You might be surprised to learn that sleep is the latest factor to be associated with coronary heart disease.

Scientific evidence points to other serious consequences of sleep deprivation including obesity, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure — conditions that also predispose you towards heart disease.

During sleep our blood pressure levels tend to be lower.

These are likely to rise if you are sleep deprived. This puts an unhealthy pressure on the heart to work harder, often leading to heart ailments. Normal sleep ensures normal blood pressure levels.

Sleep-deprived individuals often display elevated levels of Creactive proteins in the blood indicating a heightened state of inflammation in the body, which is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

They also tend to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol which puts the body in a state of high alert and leads to weight gain and increased insulin levels, factors which stress the heart.

Cortisol is also responsible for the overall puffy look we are familiar with when we haven’t slept properly.


Maintain ideal body weight: Sleep deficit causes hormonal changes that increase appetite and lead to obesity. If you are overweight you have an increased susceptibility for sleep apnea, a sleep disorder which is a serious health concern.

Apnea is characterised by a collapse of the airway behind the soft palette and the uvula (the soft tissue that hangs at the back of your throat) when you sleep.

Simply put, apnea obstructs the airway of your throat leading to hypoxia (fall in oxygen). Recurrent hypoxia and the corresponding elevations in carbon dioxide could elevate blood pressure and lead to heart attacks, strokes as well as congestive heart failure.

Therefore lose weight if you are overweight, maintaining ideal body weight helps you to sleep better.

Sleep at least 7-8 hours everyday: The amount of sleep necessary varies from person to person but generally, most people need 7-8 hours everyday for optimum performance.

Those who sleep for less than five hours per day, stand a 40 per cent higher risk for coronary disease as lack of sleep narrows the coronary arteries which could precipitate a heart attack.

Less sleep leads to irritability, impatience, an inability to concentrate and moodiness, which leaves us tired. Studies have found that short naps could help counter the harmful effects of sleep loss.

However, too much sleep is also bad for you and research shows those who slept for nine hours or more a night were as much at high risk for heart conditions as those who scrimped on sleep.

Exercise regularly: When your body is adequately tired by exercising, it’s easier for you to drop off to sleep. Exercise also relaxes your mind which in turn, helps you sleep better.

Drink a glass of warm milk (skimmed) an hour before you want to sleep. It has a calming effect on your body and helps you to relax and sleep better.

Avoid eating spicy and oily food at night as it may cause indigestion, acidity and disturb sleep.

Avoid taking stimulants like coffee and tea at night as they make keep you awake.

Taking calcium supplements at night may help you sleep better.

We are increasing losing out on our sleep to the internet, television and other distractions of modern life.

Alternative medicine has always emphasised on the importance of sleep in maintaining good health. Now we have scientific evidence that suggests how lack of sleep is connected to major illnesses.

Dr. Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling center. You may direct your questions to

First Published: Jan 23, 2007 15:58 IST

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