Part 1: Sleep Deprivation and Heart Disease

by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Professional

A 2011 study by the American Heart Association found poor-quality sleep to increase high blood pressure risk, which can then lead to heart disease.

I had the pleasure of collaborating with leading alternative-health expert Bryce Wylde. Wylde is a highly knowledgeable and respected natural healthcare clinician whose specialty is homeopathy, clinical nutrition, supplementation, and botanical medicine and whose focus is routed within functional medicine.

In this four-part series, Wylde shares information ranging from the connection between sleep deprivation and heart disease to the diagnosis of sleep apnea and the impact of snoring, as well as steps you can take to ensure a quality night’s sleep.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep is measured physiologically by electrical changes in the brain. Sleep is quantified in the amount of time spent in or out of REM (rapid eye movement). The duration from the beginning of non-REM to the end of REM is an important aspect of your sleep pattern. This is referred to as sleep architecture. Sleep architecture varies widely across species, and it is thought to be significantly influenced by genetics. But no matter your eye or hair color, or where you’re from, you’ve probably heard of the general importance of seven to eight hours of sleep for optimal health. There is a reason for that. For optimal sleep, it is necessary to experience full and uninterrupted sleep cycles. It takes the average person about 90 mins to get through one full sleep cycle. Sleep research has concluded that we need four to six cycles per night to feel our best. Do the simple math and we need seven to eight hours. But accomplishing optimal sleep isn’t as easy as clocking eight hours on your pillow.

Science has previously shown that those of us who are regularly sleep deprived or have interrupted sleep — especially those of us who snore — are more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, and narrowed blood vessels. Each of these can decrease blood flow inside the brain. Brain cells require ample oxygen and sugar. Without ideal blood flow to the brain, this will affect the brain’s ability to work properly and recall information. In addition, during sleep you can strengthen memories and practice skills you learned while awake in a “virtual” environment.

Sleep deprivation, inflammation, and heart disease

Just like food, too much or too little sleep is associated with a shorter lifespan. A study in collaboration between the University of California and the American Cancer Society, was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry which included more than a million participants over age 30. It found that people who slept for eight hours or more, or less than four hours, had a significantly higher death rate than those who managed six or seven hours a night.

Inflammation is a medical buzz term of the day for a reason. It is the underlying cause linked to the most prevalent illnesses plaguing modern society: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and premature aging. Research indicates that people who get six or fewer hours of sleep a night have higher blood levels of inflammatory protein — known as C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) — than those who get ideal amounts. This means that if you don’t get quality sleep, you are more likely to have high blood pressure, elevated risk of heart disease, and you are basically at risk for any and all diseases with an underpinning of inflammation. In fact, research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology from the London-based Whitehall II study showed that each hour per night decrease in sleep duration increased both CRP and IL-6: markers of inflammation associated with risk of heart disease.

In addition to inflammation risk, if you don’t get an appropriate amount of sleep, you are unlikely to recall as effectively. In addition to making memories stronger, a good sleep appears to help your brain reorganize memories better. Scientists think this may result in more creativity. Researchers at Harvard University found that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help instigate the creativity.

Lisa Nelson is a registered dietitian since 1999. She provides clients step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure so they can live life and enjoy their family for years to come. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques. She can be found on Twitter @lisanelsonrd and on Facebook at hearthealthmadeeasy.

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Nelson, RD, LN

Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so you can live life and enjoy your family for years to come. Lisa's passion for health comes from her own family history of heart disease, so she doesn't dispense trendy treatments; Lisa practices what she teaches in her own daily life. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques.