heart and brain

Do You Not Sleep Well? Your Heart and Brain May Be At Risk

Far too many Canadians are affected by heart disease and cardiovascular complications. While focusing strictly on the senior population, it’s critical that heart health is managed. We know that we should try and remain as active as possible, eat a balanced diet, and manage stress, however, could sleep quality contribute to hardened arteries?

Based on a recent study, it appears that seniors who do not sleep well and awake frequently, are more likely to experience hardened blood vessels, starving brain tissue of oxygen. This is the first study to examine autopsied brains who had undergone sleep monitoring before they passed away. What they found, may surprise you.

Poor Sleep Quality Linked to Arteriosclerosis

Although arteriosclerosis is often associated with the heart, the hardening of arteries can also occur in your brain. In turn, your brain is often starved of oxygen, increasing your risk of stroke and reduce cognitive functioning. This recent study, published in Stroke, found that ‘fragmented’ sleep, increased risk of arteriosclerosis by 27 percent.

The link between poor sleep and cardiovascular disease have been examined in the past, but this study is the first to find a clear association between sleep and blood vessel damage, after examining the autopsied brain tissue. While defining fragmented sleep, it simply means that you awaken often, interrupting normal sleeping patterns.

Within this study, the average number of sleep disruptions was nearly seven every hour. After examining 315 brains — average age was 90 and 70 percent were women, it was documented that 29 percent of patients suffered from a stroke and 61 percent had signs of moderate to severe blood vessel damage in their brain.

As mentioned, those who experienced greater sleep fragmentation were 27 percent more likely to suffer from severe arteriosclerosis. In fact, for each additional two arousals per hour, a 30 percent increase in signs regarding oxygen deprivation in the brain. It’s important to note that these findings were independent of other risk factors, including body mass, smoking, diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer’s, depression, etc.

At this time, researchers aren’t exactly sure why this occurs. Sleep fragmentation may impact blood circulation, poor circulation may hinder sleep, or another underlying factor may be the culprit. At this time, their findings suggest that seniors who would like to identify their risk of stroke, could potentially take part in sleep monitoring.

For now, researchers aim to clarify some of the questions they have — including underlying biological mechanisms, conditions such as sleep apnea, and whether or not blood vessel damage in the brain is in fact due to poor sleep quality. If you have a hard time sleeping, it’s important to address your concerns with a physician. In some cases, there may be a simple solution. In the mean time:

  • Consume more healthy fats, as these will help balance hormone levels, especially hormones related to your natural sleep cycle. You should also be consuming a high-quality protein source at least four hours before bed — helping your body prepare and enter the sleep cycle.
  • Consume more antioxidants, such as those found in green tea, berries, citrus fruits, and a range of vegetables — these foods will not only help you reduce toxins in your body that could be hindering sleep quality, but they also support hormone function.
  • Avoid sugar, especially at night as this can cause your blood sugar to fluctuate.
  • Speak to your doctor about natural supplements, such as magnesium and fermented cod liver oil.
  • Once the sun goes down, avoid artificial light — supporting natural melatonin production. During the day, however, get a minimum of 30 minutes of sunlight.