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Does sleeping rest your heart?

Getting adequate sleep is vital for overall health and wellbeing. During sleep, the body has the opportunity to rest and restore itself. In particular, sleep allows the heart and cardiovascular system to recover from the stresses of the day. But does sleeping actually provide rest for the heart? Let’s take a closer look at what happens to the heart during sleep.

What happens to heart rate and blood pressure during sleep?

When we sleep, our heart rate and blood pressure drop as our body enters a state of relaxation. During non-REM sleep, heart rate and blood pressure decrease by about 10-30% compared to wakefulness. When we enter REM sleep, heart rate and blood pressure rise again nearly to waking levels. Overall, however, the cardiovascular system is able to rest during sleep compared to being awake.

Here is a table summarizing the changes in heart rate and blood pressure during different stages of sleep:

Sleep Stage Heart Rate Blood Pressure
Wakefulness 60-100 bpm 120/80 mm Hg
Non-REM sleep 40-60 bpm 90/60 mm Hg
REM sleep 90-120 bpm 120/70 mm Hg

As you can see, heart rate and blood pressure are generally lowest during non-REM sleep. This allows the cardiovascular system to take a break from its constant work of pumping blood and delivering oxygen during wakefulness.

How does sleep affect heart rhythm?

In addition to slowing the heart rate, sleep also affects the heart’s rhythmic electrical activity. During non-REM sleep, the heart’s rhythm becomes more steady and regular. The opposite occurs during REM sleep – the heart’s electrical activity becomes more variable and chaotic.

Overall, the variability in heart rhythms during sleep allows the cardiac pacemaker cells to rest and reset. This is important for maintaining proper heart rhythm when we’re awake. Disruptions in normal sleep architecture can interfere with the heart’s ability to maintain healthy rhythms.

Does sleep help heal and repair the heart?

Research suggests that sleep does help facilitate healing and repair of the heart and cardiovascular system. During sleep, processes involved in tissue growth and repair are upregulated. The body produces more proteins, cytokines, growth hormones, and other substances that promote restoration.

Deep, non-REM sleep appears to be especially important for cardiovascular repair. Growth hormone is secreted predominantly during deep sleep. This hormone stimulates repair and growth of cardiac tissue. Lack of deep non-REM sleep has been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and poorer recovery from heart problems.

In addition, getting adequate sleep helps reduce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Chronically elevated levels of these hormones can damage blood vessels and the heart. By allowing the body to relax and rebalance hormones, sleep protects cardiovascular health.

How does sleep deprivation affect the heart?

Not getting enough sleep has definite negative effects on the heart and cardiovascular system. Sleep deprivation has been linked to:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Decreased heart rate variability
  • Increased inflammatory cytokines
  • Impaired glucose metabolism
  • Increased sympathetic nervous system activity

These changes put extra stress on the heart and blood vessels. Over time, lack of sleep increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and irregular heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation.

Here is a table summarizing some of the key cardiovascular effects of insufficient sleep:

Cardiovascular Effect Impact
Increased blood pressure Extra workload on the heart; increased risk of heart attack and stroke
Increased heart rate Heart must work harder with less chance to rest
Inflammation Damage and scarring of blood vessels; plaque buildup
Metabolic changes Increased risk of diabetes and obesity

As these effects demonstrate, lack of sleep prevents the cardiovascular system from adequately resting and recovering each night.

How much sleep do we need for cardiovascular health?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults ages 18-64 for optimal health. Older adults may require a shorter amount of sleep, like 7-8 hours. Teenagers need even more – 8-10 hours nightly.

It’s not just the total amount of sleep that’s important – sleep quality matters too. Getting sufficient deep non-REM and REM sleep allows for the greatest benefits to the heart and blood vessels.

Sleeping less than 6 hours per night on a regular basis has been associated with significantly increased risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other problems. The occasional night of lost sleep likely won’t cause harm, but chronic sleep deprivation should be addressed.

Here is a table with the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended sleep durations:

Age Group Recommended Hours of Sleep
Newborns 14-17 hours
Infants 12-15 hours
Toddlers 11-14 hours
Preschoolers 10-13 hours
School-age 9-12 hours
Teenagers 8-10 hours
Young Adults 7-9 hours
Adults 7-9 hours
Older Adults 7-8 hours

As we age, less sleep is required. But adequate sleep remains crucial throughout the lifespan to allow the heart to rest and regenerate.

Tips for sleeping better

If you struggle with inadequate or poor quality sleep, there are steps you can take to get the recommended amount of sleep for a healthy heart:

  • Follow a regular sleep-wake schedule, even on weekends
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet at night
  • Avoid screens and digital devices before bedtime
  • Reduce caffeine intake, especially late in the day
  • Get exposure to bright sunlight in the morning to set your circadian rhythm
  • Establish a relaxing pre-bedtime routine
  • Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime
  • Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes
  • Manage stress and anxiety through relaxation techniques

If you have severe difficulty sleeping, speak to your doctor. You may have an underlying sleep disorder or other health issue interfering with sleep. Treatment can help restore healthy sleep.

The impact of sleep disorders on the heart

Sleep disorders like sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome disrupt normal sleep patterns. This prevents the cardiovascular system from adequately resting and repairing itself at night. Sleep disorders have been linked to increased risks of high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, and heart attack.

Obstructive sleep apnea, where breathing stops and starts during sleep, places particular strain on the heart. Apnea increases the risk of arrhythmias, pulmonary hypertension, and heart failure. Treatment with CPAP to keep the airway open during sleep is crucial for heart health in those with apnea.

Insomnia, which involves difficulty falling or staying asleep, results in sleep deprivation. The cardiovascular impacts of insufficient sleep discussed earlier apply to those with chronic insomnia. Stress management, cognitive behavioral therapy, and sometimes medication can help treat insomnia and improve sleep quantity and quality.

Restless leg syndrome leads to constant leg movements during sleep, resulting in fragmented, low quality sleep. The intermittent waking prevents the heart from enjoying extended periods of deep restorative sleep. Managing restless leg with lifestyle changes, massage, and medication may improve cardiovascular health.

The role of sleep in recovery from heart problems

Adequate sleep is especially important before and after heart surgery or events like a heart attack or heart failure exacerbation. Sleep allows the cardiovascular system to recover more quickly and completely from the stress and trauma of these insults.

Despite its importance, poor sleep is common both before and after major cardiac events and procedures. This negatively impacts healing and recovery. Steps should be taken to assess sleep quality in cardiac patients and address any issues or sleep disorders present.

Some tips to improve sleep after a cardiac event include:

  • Take brief naps as needed, but limit total daytime sleep
  • Ask your doctor about medications that can promote sleep but avoid benzodiazepines
  • Use pillows to maintain proper position and sleep comfortably
  • Do gentle stretches and walk each day to promote circulation and healing
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine and sleep schedule
  • Reduce fluid intake a few hours before bed to limit nighttime trips to the bathroom
  • Manage pain effectively through medications or other therapies

Prioritizing sleep and addressing any sleep issues can speed heart recovery and improve outcomes after cardiovascular events or surgeries.


Sleep provides an essential period of rest for the heart and cardiovascular system. Heart rate and blood pressure decline during sleep to allow the heart to recover from the demands of being awake. Sufficient sleep duration and quality are necessary for optimal cardiovascular health. Insufficient or disrupted sleep can negatively impact the heart and increase the risk of heart disease and associated events. Improving sleep hygiene and treating any underlying sleep disorders are important in protecting the heart and promoting rest and repair overnight.