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Dealing with sleep problems

Following a heart attack you can feel anxious and emotional. This can affect the quality of sleep you have each night. Find out how sleep can help with your recovery and learn tips to improve your sleep.

woman and dog running in field

Sleep is important to regulating mood and to memory and learning functions. Getting enough sleep will improve your ability to stay focused and on task, learn new skills and information, and may help control your weight and energy levels. Sleep assists the body by regulating hormones and contributing to a healthy immune system.

Worrying about not sleeping well is a common cause of poor sleep. Trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep will not hurt your heart in any way. You do not need to sleep more if you have a heart problem.

If you have had a problem sleeping since being told you have a heart condition, it is likely a temporary problem.

Psychologist Marie Young, talks about how sleep routine can be impacted after a heart event, and ways to manage this.

Top tips for better sleep

1. Have a quiet hour before bed

Switch off before going to bed. Ideally turn off the TV or computer and read a book or practice meditation. Having a hot bath can promote relaxation. Drinking a glass of herbal tea before bed can help too.

2. Listen to the radio until you drift off

If you have a partner make sure to use headphones.

3. Only go to bed when you are tired

Do not try to get 'extra' sleep.

4. Set a time limit on lying awake (e.g. 30 minutes)

If you are still awake after this time, get up until you feel drowsy. Repeat until you fall asleep. It may take a few days of getting up, but eventually you should find that you can fall asleep much more easily.

5. Exercise during the day

Exercise promotes quality sleep. It will help you fall asleep quicker and sleep longer. Exercise is an important component of cardiac rehabilitation and should be part of everyday activity. It is important you follow your exercise programme, not just for your heart health but to promote good quality sleep.

6. Avoid stimulants before bed

Stimulants are foods such as coffee, sugary drinks and chocolate. Stimulants affect both the brain and the body. Caffeine (in coffee) and sugar will stimulate the brain to increase alertness therefore making it harder to “switch off” and sleep. They also cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar, constricting blood vessels. This causes the body to be in a state of heightened awareness, making it more difficult to relax.

7. Avoid sleep medication

Although some sleeping medication may help in the short-term, people can become dependent on it and require it to help sleep all the time. Side effects may affect your quality of life. Only take sleeping medications as indicated and with medical supervision.

If you are having trouble sleeping and it is impacting your quality of life, talk to your doctor or nurse. Make sure you tell your doctor about all your medications.

Adjusting to life after a heart attack can be stressful. Breathing and relaxation exercises can help you to manage stress and anxiety to support your recovery.

Learn relaxation techniques