Reduce Your Heart Risk Factors with Sleep

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Reducing your heart risk factors with sleepWe’ve been hearing a lot about sleep lately.  We’re all familiar at this point with Michael Jackson’s previous insomnia issues, and in yesterday's issue of The New York Times there was an article about a new Pew Research Study that shows that 34% of Americans report they take a daily nap…mainly because they’re not getting enough sleep at night.

We’ve clearly become a sleep-challenged nation, but what many people don’t realize is a lack of sleep is one of the heart risk factors.  A chronic lack of sleep makes you more prone to high blood pressure, and heart disease.  Not to mention that sleep loss can cause you to become hungrier for high calorie foods, which leads to other heart risk factors.

Since a lack of sleep is such a big heart risk factor, how can you ensure you'll get a better night’s sleep? Here's some tips based on some research and what we find works in our own home:

  • Go to bed about the same time each night, ideally before 10:00 p.m.—and 11:00 p.m. at the latest.  Going to bed earlier in the evening puts you more in line with your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.
  • Eat only light snacks after 7:30 p.m. Heavy meals, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar eaten too close to bedtime can make it impossible to fall asleep. If you get hungry in the late evening, have a light “tryptophan” snack—such as a turkey sandwich or glass of warm milk. 
  • Avoid stimulation, such as watching television programming with loud controversy, or a movie laced with violence, in the evening hours before sleep. 
  • A warm bath helps soothe mind and body before retiring. We add Epsom salts because the ingredients are so calming. 
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Darkness signals your body to produce melatonin (aka the “Hormone of Darkness”), which is the key to deep, restful sleep. Make sure your curtains or blinds block all light from the outside,  and that your bedroom is well ventilated. 
  • Drink a cup of tea that contains valerian or chamomile, both of which help to make you drowsy. 
  • Turn your clock around, since watching the clock can increase your adrenaline levels—making it even harder to fall asleep. 
  • Electromagnetic fields (EMF) lower melatonin levels, so eliminate electricity--- like the television--- as much as possible in your sleeping room… if you must have an electric clock, keep it at least 4 feet away; battery or wind-up clocks are better…my husband even unplugs bedroom lamps when he turns in 
  • If you’re having trouble falling asleep, use the time for rest, which is also rejuvenating, and will keep your body’s melatonin production cycling appropriately. People often turn a light back on to read, or head to the kitchen and open the refrigerator door; both light exposures disrupt your body’s natural production of melatonin.
  • Red light is the best for night lights (or even your “fridge”), as it is the only color on the spectrum that doesn’t disrupt the “hormone of darkness."
  • Meditation can also help you reframe the time you lay awake into something positive to do for yourself until you fall asleep.

The bottom line is that since a lack of sleep increases your heart risk factors, you want to do all you can to get a better night's sleep.  Your heart will thank you!

For more information on how to reduce your heart risk factors, visit

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