Sleep plays a crucial role in overall health and well-being. Whilst sleeping, your blood pressure goes down, which allows the heart and blood vessels to enter a resting period. The less sleep you get, the longer your blood pressure stays elevated during a 24-hour cycle.
Your risk of heart attack increases when you do not get enough sleep, but a heart attack can also cause sleep troubles.
Read on to learn more about heart attacks, their symptoms, and why getting enough sleep is crucial for heart health.
What is a heart attack?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defined a heart attack as what happens when a part of the heart muscle doesn't get enough blood.1 It is also known as a myocardial infarction. When this happens, your heart does not get enough oxygen, and if blood flow is not quickly restored, the heart muscles will begin to die.2 It is considered to be a medical emergency. Coronary artery disease is the major cause of most heart attacks.3,4
Risk factors of a heart attack include:
- Increasing age
- Being male
- Cigarette smoking
- High blood pressure
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Symptoms of a heart attack
The symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling light-headed or weak
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain or discomfort in the neck, back, or jaw
- Pain or discomfort in one or both shoulders or arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained tiredness
Contact emergency services immediately if you are experiencing any of the heart attack symptoms listed above.
Can drinking enough water help prevent a heart attack?
When the body is adequately hydrated, it helps the heart to pump blood more effectively through the blood vessels to the muscles. Proper hydration is particularly important for people with pre-existing heart conditions or those with a higher risk of heart disease.
The lead study author and a researcher in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), Natalia Dmitrieva, PhD, stated that drinking enough water and staying hydrated supports our heart and may help reduce long term risks for heart disease.6
Water is the major source of hydration for the body. How much water you need depends on each individual. Every human being is different, and as such, the amount of water needed each day can vary. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that men should take about 2.6 litres (10 cups) of water a day, and women should take about 2 litres (8 cups) of fluids a day. A way to gauge hydration is by checking your urine colour: if it is hay coloured or clear, you are most likely well hydrated. When you don't take in enough fluids, your urine appears a darker yellow or amber since it is more concentrated.7
Getting enough sleep is crucial for heart health
Just like a healthy diet and lifestyle are important for maintaining a healthy heart, getting enough sleep is also essential. Short sleep duration has been linked to cardiovascular disease, increased BMI and risk for obesity, chronic illness, stroke, heart attack, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia.8
Sleep helps maintain stable blood pressure
Not getting an adequate amount of sleep every night (less than 6 hours) may cause a more pronounced rise in blood pressure. Therefore, a lack of sleep could worsen your condition if you already have high blood pressure.
Hormones like cortisol are regulated by sleep, and the nervous system is not able to regulate these hormones when an individual is chronically deprived of sleep, which can lead to elevated blood pressure.
During a healthy and normal night's sleep, blood pressure drops by around 10-20%.8 This is known as nocturnal dipping. Poor sleep is associated with non-dipping, which means that a person’s blood pressure does not go down at night. Studies have found that elevated blood pressure at night is related to overall high blood pressure. Also, non-dipping has been tied to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.8
Enough sleep can reduce cortisol levels
Cortisol is a hormone that a person's adrenal glands release when undergoing stress. Cortisol in adequate amounts can help a person adapt to dangerous or stressful events. Its other roles in the body include controlling blood pressure, controlling blood sugar levels, and reducing inflammation. Cortisol levels can become unusually high due to an underlying medical condition, certain medications, or stress.
Getting adequate sleep and having a regular sleep-wake routine is one of the natural ways to reduce high cortisol levels.9
Sleeping after a heart attack
A heart attack is life-changing, affecting those who have it and the people around them. It is normal that you would want to do anything to prevent another episode upon surviving your first heart attack; however, the first step is ensuring that you are well recovered, and then you can focus on the steps you need to take to maintain your health moving forward. Sleep is a vital factor in your recovery and in regaining your strength post-heart attack.
Enrolling in a cardiac rehabilitation program is beneficial as it can help to improve your heart health through nutrition, weight management, risk reduction, and exercise.
It is important to lower your blood pressure as reaching a blood pressure goal of <130/80 mmHg can help reduce stress on the heart and the risk of future heart attacks. Managing your stress is also important, and adequate sleep and a healthy sleep routine play a big role in this.
When should you contact a doctor?
A heart attack is a medical emergency. As mentioned above, some common warning signs include squeezing chest pain or discomfort that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back, unexplained shortness of breath, pain, and discomfort that goes from your chest to other parts of the body like the arms, neck, back, teeth and jaw.
If you or someone you're with has chest pain or discomfort or any other symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. It is advised to call an ambulance rather than drive yourself or the person with the symptoms to the hospital.
A heart attack is a life-threatening medical emergency with many risks, one of which is not getting enough sleep. Just like sticking to exercise and a healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, sleep can too. No matter what your inherited risk for heart attack is, healthy sleep may reduce that risk, which shows how important getting adequate sleep is for your heart health.
- CDC. Heart attack symptoms, risk factors, and recovery | cdc. Gov [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 30]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/heart_attack.htm
- Heart attack - what is a heart attack? | nhlbi, nih [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 30]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-attack
- Coronary heart disease [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2018 [cited 2022 Sep 30]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronary-heart-disease/
- CDC. Know your risk for heart disease | cdc. Gov [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019 [cited 2022 Dec 3]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/risk_factors.htm
- Heart attack [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2017 [cited 2022 Sep 30]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-attack/
- Good hydration may reduce long-term risks for heart failure [Internet]. National Institutes of Health (NIH). 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 30]. Available from: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/good-hydration-may-reduce-long-term-risks-heart-failure
- Services D of H& H. Water - a vital nutrient [Internet]. [cited 2022 Dec 3]. Available from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/water-a-vital-nutrient
- Calhoun DA, Harding SM. Sleep and hypertension. Chest [Internet]. 2010 Aug [cited 2022 Sep 30];138(2):434–43. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913764/
- 13 proven natural ways to lower cortisol [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Dec 5]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322335