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Get Some Sleep For Your Heart And Brain

03/04/2016 04:15 EST | Updated 03/05/2017 05:12 EST
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USA, New Jersey, Couple sleeping together in bed at night

Written by Alexis Dobranowski, a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Everyone knows humans need sleep.

Adults need on average just under eight hours of sleep per night for good brain function (although this varies from person to person, with some needing as little as 6.5 hours and some needing as many as 10).

To find out why sleep is so important, I talked to Dr. Andrew Lim, neurologist.

"Sleep plays a key role in maintaining brain health -- clearing toxins, regulating the connections between neurons, maintaining healthy brain blood flow, consolidating memories -- but clearly sleep also plays a role in cardiovascular health, immune health, and other organ systems. Sleep touches pretty much every major organ system, from brain on down."

That includes the heart, says Dr. Anu Tandon, respirologist and sleep specialist.

"Reduced sleep may put excess strain on the heart by releasing certain hormones in the body that cause your blood pressure and heart rate to increase. Over time, this can lead to development on hypertension -- one of the well-known risk factors for developing heart disease."

Sleep fragmentation can also be a problem, she says. That's when waking up or entering into a lighter sleep phase interrupts deep REM sleep. It can be related to obstructive sleep apnea (pauses or shallow breaths for a few seconds to a minute).

"A severe degree of apnea has been linked to increase risk of heart attacks, development of hypertension and worsening heart failure if your heart is already damaged," Dr. Tandon says.

Talk to your doctor if you still don't feel rested after a long night's sleep.

So, how can we be sure to get a good rest for our brains and hearts?

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Keep to a sleep schedule, even on weekends.
  • Avoid alcohol (it disrupts REM sleep)
  • Keep the bedroom dark and cool.
  • Keep electronics out of the bedroom -- Oh no. My phone is practically attached to me! Let's dig into this one a little further...

Say no to electronics in the bedroom

A TV, tablet or phone (or all three) in the bedroom can affect your sleep.

"Very similar to how one stretches before exercises, the brain needs 'down time' before settling," Dr. Tandon says. "These devices engage the brain preventing it from realizing it is time to rest."

Dr. Lim says the light from electronic devices can potentially disrupt one's internal biological clock, making it more difficult to fall asleep. As well, the activities that you do on these devices (surfing the web, playing games, checking e-mail, doing work) are often quite activating, making it even harder to fall asleep.

For people who have trouble falling asleep (sleep initiation insomnia), it's very important to allow the brain to decompress before sleep so it's not over-stimulated.

Some experts suggest avoid your electronics for two hours before bedtime. If that's not possible for you, at least try to keep them out of your bedroom or on dim.

What's your key to a good night's sleep? For me, it's no caffeine after noon and a few pages of a good book to wind down before bedtime.

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Discover more healthy sleeping tips from our health experts at health.sunnybrook.ca

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