For ‘hearty’ life: less stress, more sleep

Adequate sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Insomnia and work stress are considered as insidious problems which increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

As per international scientific societies, appropriate sleep duration for an adult is between 7 to 9 hours per night. People who don’t get adequate sleep are at a higher risk of stroke, heart attacks and high blood pressure regardless of age, weight, and exercise habits.

Many studies in the past state that people who sleep not more than 5 hours per night have 2.3-fold greater risk of developing heart attack than those who get 6 to 8 hours sleep. Hence, getting enough good quality sleep is important to reduce the risk of these conditions. 

Recent research also states that poor sleep in the early part of life leads to a higher risk of developing cardiovascular problems. These children tend to develop higher cholesterol levels, higher body mass index, larger waist sizes and higher blood pressure in their later years. These risk factors then directly contribute to adverse cardiovascular health.

Lack of sleep with hypertension can trigger cardiovascular disease. Sleep deprivation for a short-term is also dangerous as demonstrated among employees who work night shifts and rotational shifts. Such employees have a 1.5 times higher risk of suffering from hypertension. Further, the correlation only strengthens with time as the longer the shift, higher the possibility of suffering from both hypertension and heart disease.

Another common sleep disorder which significantly reduces the quality of sleep is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In this disorder, there is an occurrence of repetitive periods of obstructed breathing during sleep and blocks in the airway causing drop in oxygen level in the body. This makes the diaphragm and chest muscles work harder to open the blocked airway causing a lot of stress on the heart and lungs.

Sleep deprivation increases sympathetic nervous system activity, heart rate and vasoconstriction as well as reduces salt retention. These factors are associated with the development of hypertension or cause difficulty in control of existing hypertension. Sleep deprivation also leads to an increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus. 

Researchers have found that when we don’t get enough sleep, our body produces higher levels of inflammatory agents which are closely linked with the development of heart disease and diabetes.

Another important modifiable risk factor for heart disease is work-related stress. It is the example of a psychosocial risk factor that has become of interest in today’s ever demanding, fast-paced and globalised society.

It has been found that about 10% to 40% of the workforce struggles with work-related stress. There is robust evidence from various studies linking work-related stress to cardiovascular disease. Unreasonable job demands, less employee control over work-life balance, job insecurity and long work hours are few factors that cause work-related stress.

The rise of the digital technology that allows employees to stay connected at all hours has increased expectations at work. Now, employees tend to work even after the official hours, further triggering job stress.

A wake-up call

There are various risk factors that can trigger cardiovascular disease due to impaired sleep and stress. However, there are various components that can help in dealing with both, which includes physical activity, eating healthy and relaxation strategies.

• Maintain work-life boundaries to help avoid conflicts

• Take medication to manage high blood pressure, as directed by a physician

• Learn to relax by engaging in meditation, yoga and deep breathing exercises to help reduce stress

• Follow a healthy diet which includes plenty of nuts, green leafy vegetables and fruits

• Adopt relaxation training, which involves progressive muscle relaxation

• Power your electronic gadgets down two hours before bed time

In a nutshell, sleep deprivation and work related stress are interdependent and collectively contribute to an increased cardiovascular risk with significant morbidity and mortality. They also contribute to the development of conventional risk factors like hypertension and diabetes mellitus.

Addressing these risk factors at an early stage in life will go a long way in preventing cardiovascular problems. 

(The writer is Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital, Bengaluru)

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