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How does sleep affect your heart?

Many studies have linked poor sleep to an increased risk of heart disease. We look at how sleep can affect your heart health and tips to help you get a good night's sleep.

A view taken from above shows a happy, refreshed woman after a good nights sleep. The woman is  middle-aged with stretched hands lying in beige sheets and pillow. She is smiling and looks up at the camera.A good nights sleep can improve overall health and may reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.

In this article


A 2019 study on daylight savings' impact on heart health found that more people than usual have heart attacks in the week immediately after the clocks go forward in spring.

The research suggests that the increase is linked to changes in sleep patterns. This theory fits a growing body of evidence linking sleep problems and heart health.

A paper published in the heart journal Circulation found that not having enough sleep, or having too much, increases the risk of heart disease, as do sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnoea.

Six tips to sleep better at night

When we get enough sleep, the benefits to our health, mental wellbeing and quality of life are undeniable. We're more likely to feel positive, energised and refreshed. It also helps us to regulate our appetite and food choices, have the energy to move our body and be more productive at work.

But for some of us, sleep doesn't come easily, and it can be hard to know where to start.

If you experience the effects of poor sleep, just a few small changes to your daily routine and habits can help. Improved sleep won't happen immediately, but your sleep will gradually improve if these habits are maintained.

1. Keep a consistent routine

Varying our bedtime or morning wake-up time can prevent our body from getting into a stable circadian rhythm. Emerging evidence shows the importance of a consistent sleep pattern for preventing heart disease.

Aim to go to bed and get up around the same time each day, even on the weekends.

Getting outside into natural light as soon as you wake up will also help because daylight is the best regulator of your biological clock.

2. Take time to unwind before bed

Winding down and relaxing before bed can help to signal to your body that it's time to sleep.

This could be as simple as a cup of tea, a hot shower, reading a book or listening to music.

If you go to bed with a busy mind, it can help to write a to-do list to help you feel organised for the next day. It can also prevent you from lying in bed worrying about everything you need to do.

3. Remove distractions to help you sleep

If you truly want good quality sleep, keep all electronic devices like phones and tablets out of your bedroom. Ideally, you want to aim to do this at least 30-60 minutes before you want to go to sleep.

The main reason is that artificial light exposure at night can interfere with your circadian rhythm. Devices emit a blue light, which suppresses melatonin, your sleep hormone.

The foreground shows hands holding a mobile phone device. In the background, we can see that it is a middle-aged woman, lying in bed before sleeping, using the phone.

4. Keep comfortable

You'll sleep best when you set up your bedroom for sleep. Aim for a dark, quiet room at a cool temperature (i.e. 18°C).

A bedside lamp can be a great way to create the feeling of a darkened room with just enough light for some reading or relaxing before you go to sleep.

Choose comfortable bedding and change it each season, so you don't get too cold or hot at night.

5. Eat and drink to support sleep

Stimulants like caffeine can make sleeping harder, especially if consumed too close to bedtime. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others and may need to avoid caffeine from earlier on in the day.

Remember, caffeine isn't just found in coffee. You'll find varying amounts in energy drinks, chocolate, black tea, green tea and some alcoholic beverages too.

If you often get up at night to go to the toilet, this will also affect your sleep. Experiment with an amount of liquid you can tolerate before bed, or avoid drinking fluids a couple of hours before bed.

6. Keep moving every day

Studies have shown that physical regular activity can help to improve the quality and duration of your sleep. A good night's sleep helps with recovery from exercise too.

Physical activity can be a great excuse to get outside. Think of it as an opportunity to expose your eyes to natural light, which helps with melatonin production and supports better sleep.

When the weather permits, try outdoor activities like walking, trips to the park or jobs around the house like gardening.

A middle aged couple (male and female) are holding hands as they walk outdoors in a leafy green setting. Both adults are laughing and smiling at each other.

Why does poor sleep increase the risk of heart disease?

Researchers are still determining why too little sleep is bad for heart health, although they have some theories.

Ongoing sleep deprivation has not only been associated with high blood pressure(hypertension), a known risk factor for heart disease but also linked with increased body weight and higher levels of chemicals linked to inflammation. Although it hasn't been proven that inflammation causes heart disease, higher levels of inflammation are typical in people living with it.

How do sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnoea affect my heart?

One way clinicians know a link exists between sleep and heart conditions is because people with sleep apnoea are likelier to experience heart disease.

When someone has sleep apnoea, their breathing pauses for short periods while sleeping. These pauses, which can occur 30 times or more an hour, cause the person to wake as they gasp for air. This, in turn, prevents a restful night's sleep.

Sleep apnoea is strongly associated with high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, coronary artery disease and heart failure.

The American National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research estimated that obstructive sleep apnoea may account for 38,000 cardiovascular deaths in the US each year.

An increasing number of studies also show links between insomnia and the risk of heart disease.

The good news is there are ways to treat sleep disorders, so talk to your doctor if you're struggling with sleep.

A man, looking visibly tired and frustrated, lies in bed staring at the wall. There is an alarm clock next to him in the foreground. The lighting is bluish suggesting that it's the early hours of the morning and he hasn't slept yet.

How much sleep is best for my heart?

There's debate amongst experts about exactly how much sleep is ideal.

For 'optimal health', the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends seven or more hours of sleep per night for adults. While the American Heart Association suggests, seven or eight is ideal. Meanwhile, a study presented at the 2018 European Society of Cardiology conference suggested that six to eight hours of sleep a night is ideal for heart health.

Seven to eight hours of sleep is a good target. Although some people may need more and others less. The quality of the time you are asleep and following a regular sleep routine is also important.

How do heart conditions affect my sleep?

Of course, getting the ideal amount of sleep can be easier said than done, as anyone who has experienced insomnia knows only too well. Sometimes a heart condition can also negatively impact the quality of your sleep.

While you probably can't cure your heart condition, there are some steps you can take towards getting a better night's sleep.

In this video on dealing with sleep problems, psychologist Marie Young talks about disruption in sleep after a heart event. She provides top tips for getting a better night's sleep.

Psychologist Marie Young, talks about how sleep can be impacted after spending time in hospital and after having a heart event.

Will sleeping tablets affect my heart condition or my heart pills?

For those still struggling to get a good night's sleep, you may also look to pharmaceutical or complementary medicines for help.

However, some medication for insomnia isn't safe for people with certain heart conditions, so it's important to mention your heart condition and treatment to your health professional when talking about sleeping tablets.

It's also possible that certain sleeping pills (either prescribed or over-the-counter) could interact with your heart medication. Once again, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before starting any medication to help you sleep.

When is the best time to sleep?

We all have different lives, jobs and daily demands. Whether you're a night owl or an early riser – the most crucial part of sleep is getting into a consistent, regular routine to get enough restorative sleep each night.

Some studies have shown that it's important to sleep as much as possible during the hours of darkness because this helps to align the body's circadian rhythm with its environment and improves our sleep quality.

Get professional support

Regular, good-quality sleep is essential for heart health and should be a priority for everyone. A lack of sleep can significantly impact your health and quality of life.

Te Kete Haerenga is a downloadable toolkit designed to help you learn about sleep and how to improve it. Included is a sleep tracker to help you improve your sleep habits.

If these tips and tools don't help to improve your sleep and you are having ongoing symptoms of poor sleep, talk to your doctor and discuss whether any treatment is needed.

Signs you may need to talk to your doctor:

  • Ongoing problems with mood.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Restlessness in bed.
  • Severe snoring.
  • Waking unrefreshed despite having a good night's sleep.
Lily Henderson, NZRD

Lily Henderson, NZRD

National Nutrition Advisor

I am passionate about improving the health of all Kiwis from young through to old. I have enjoyed working in nutrition in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.


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  2. New England Journal of Medicine Shifts to and from Daylight Savings Time and Incidence of Myocardial Infarction
  3. Circulation: Sleep Duration and Quality: Impact on Lifestyle Behaviours and Cardiometabolic Health: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association
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