We all need sleep to be heart healthy

Sleep and Heart Health Really?


February is known as Heart Health Month by the American Heart Association the goal is to raise heart heath awareness. Their campaign “Go Red” (LINK) has three objectives according to Go Red cardiologist Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital:

·        Educating women on the silent symptoms of a heart attack.

·         Educating about the differing symptoms between men and women, their experience of heart attacks or strokes in different ways. (Yes, in this case men and women are truly different).

·        Overall, focus on prevention for both men and women, especially young adults as this is the time in their lives when long term habits start forming like healthy cooking and exercise.

According to the CDC, Center for Disease Control; Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States; killing nearly 422,000 each year. (LINK) http://www.cdc.gov/Features/WearRed/

 Both the American Heart Association and the CDC recommend regular physical activity, a varied diet (think more fruits and vegetables), limiting red meat, fast foods and processed foods. Stop smoking, limit alcohol consumption and see your doctor regularly. Doing these things reduces the common risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure.  However, to me, the psychotherapist, the most interesting item on the list of Dr. Mosca was sleep. Sleep has been linked to all sorts of problems like weight gain, high blood pressure (think heart health), depression, bi-polar, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), low school performance, night terrors and memory problems.

Sleep is an activity that most Americans just do not get enough of. In fact, the CDC proclaims that lack of sleep is a public health epidemic. It is estimated that 50-70 million US adults have sleep or wakefulness disorders.

Sleep is very important.

Sleep is so important that I ask about it in most of my therapy sessions week after week. Sleep provides many beneficial features for us. These benefits include the following:

 Sleep is restorative to the brain. If you think about your brain taking in all that sensory information daily from the important stuff like writing a report or term paper, to remembering your wife’s or children’s birthday to the non-important like the color of your boss’s tie or the color of the car turning left beside you this morning. Your brain must “off load” the useless information. Your brain is like a filing cabinet it can hold a great deal; it’s just can’t store everything nor should it.

 Sleep also allows the brain to consolidate memories. The bits and pieces you learn during the day comes together so you can recall the memories for later use.

Sleep helps us “unlearn memories” let’s say you are learning how to snowboard. In your first attempt you get up for a moment, then fall. You try again and fall, you try a third and fourth time again you are up then you fall. Finally, on the 8th time you make it all the way down the slopes without a single fall. Your brain has remembered all those times you have fallen plus it time you actual made it down the hill successfully. The important information is how to stay balanced and make it down the hill.  The brain sorts which memories to keep and which to toss. Then next time you get on the hill you remember how to make it from the top to the bottom without falling. Your brain no longer need the information about falling so your brain removes the unhelpful “how to fall memories”.

Sleep helps us learn; at night your brain is preparing for the next day. It will review information and problem solve and develop new ideas. This process works with a math problem or golf swing or learning a new language. Ever had a problem you couldn’t solve? You went to bed and the next day you had an answer. That is our ever powerful brain reviewing and working out your concerns.

Sleep helps the body repair and correct cell damage. Sleep regulate the energy level of cells.  When cells lose this natural energy they lose their natural defenses increasing the risk of illness and chronic disease. 

How Much Sleep Do We Need? And How Much Sleep Are We Getting?

 A recently released yearlong study by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) conducted by an 18 member multidisciplinary team reviewed all of the current literature in the field. The new recommendations for sleep are:

·        Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day (previously 12-18)

·        Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours (previously 14-15)

·        Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (previously 12-14)

·        Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours (previously 11-13)

·        School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours (previously 10-11)

·        Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours (previously 8.5-9.5)

·        Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours (new age category)

·        Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours

·        Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours (new age category)


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How do we get the sleep we so desperately need? 


We know we need sleep and how much sleep but how do we get that sleep? Preparation seems to be one of the keys. It may sound simple but we must take ourselves to bed. We are a world of do this, do that, we pride ourselves on the amount of tasks we can get done in a single day. We stretch ourselves too thin by working late, or watch late night TV because we feel we deserve the time off. If we can make a few small changes you can get a better night’s sleep. Here are a few tips to get your started.

·        Stick to a regular bedtime and wake time every day, even on weekends or vary it only slightly on weekends. You know the time when you start feel tired…go to bed.

·        Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Even those lights on your VCR, DVD, cable box or clock can cause disruptions. Cover them at night if they shine brightly.

·        Turn off your phone or at least put it in sleep mode.

·        Turn off all screen time at least 2 hours before you are wanting to sleep. Remember about the brain’s awesome power to process; it needs that off screen time to begin its’ job. That means anything that has a “backlight” if you use a lamp to see it that it’s much better. But really try no screen time at least 1 hour before bed.

·        Stop drinking caffeine by noon; earlier would be even better.

·        Avoid large late-night meals; no more food by at least 9:00 PM. Your body needs times to digest that food.

·        Let in the sun. Many of us work in office building with no natural light, often arriving to work before the sun rises and leaving the office after the sun goes down. If you can push back the blinds, go for a 15 minute walk, go outside to have lunch. Be in the sun (use sun screen) as much as possible use natural light as it helps your body to regulate your sleep cycle.

·        Skip the late-afternoon nap, as it can make it harder to sleep at bedtime.

·        Keep the noise down. If you live off a busy street or close to train tracks or next to college campuses invest in a high quality pair of ear plugs; the cost is under $3.00. It will pay you many times over with many hours of great sleep.

·        Get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Exercise will help with quality of sleep and may even help with getting to sleep and staying asleep longer.

·        If none of these things help, please see a doctor.

Sleep is vital to your well-being. By getting a good night’s sleep it will have a positive effect on your mood. It will increase you safety by not driving drowsily by 15%, sleep also helps your memory, repairs your body and allows you to feel on top of the world. Not getting enough sleep effects your physical body, emotional health and can strain social relationships. February is Heart Health Month, let’s start by getting a good night’s sleep and join me on February 6, 2015 in wearing red to alert your friends and family to the important issue of Heart Health and sleep.