Getting a good night’s sleep is important to everyone’s overall health. However, recent studies indicate that people in Western countries sleep only sleep 6.8 hours per night, and middle-aged 40–50 years old sleep the least.

The more sleep deprivation becomes prevalent, so do the more incidences of heart disorders.

“While you’re asleep, there’s a change in your autonomic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system dominates,” says Ken Liu, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse. “Usually, when a person sleeps, we see a decrease in heart rate, and your heart is in more of a resting.”

Beyond the visible effects of weight gain related to lack of sleep, perhaps even more concerning are the effects that are not as detectable. In another study on sleep, it was found when people were not allowed to sleep during their normal time, their blood vessels did not function properly. Healthy blood vessels expand and contract to meet the body’s needs through a process regulated by the hormone nitric oxide.

Napping can be an option for some. People should consider naps when they experience new fatigue, experience sleep loss, or have a change in work schedules.

“Some studies have shown that if you’re taking naps, especially naps that are shorter than 30 minutes during the day, it may have some beneficial effects in terms of being able to make one function better at work and increase your productivity, and even some potential health benefits,” Dr. Liu adds.

However, more frequent naps also could be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, Dr. Liu says.

“Sleep apnea has been well-documented to cause sleep deprivation, and it can contribute to increased risk of arrhythmias. It can also contribute to increased blood pressure or even risk of stroke in the long term,” explains Dr. Liu. “If you’re a heavy snorer or you need frequent naps during the day, these may be indications that you need to talk to a doctor about possible sleep apnea and even consider a screening test for it.”

Learn more on mayoclinic.org.

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