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Sleep and Your Vascular Health

For many people, it’s a point of pride to talk about how little sleep they get at night. These sleep warriors may say, “Oh, I don’t need anymore than four hours a night. I’ve just got too much to do,” or “I try to get more sleep, but when I wake up, I’m up. There’s just no point in trying.”

Dr. Eugene Tanquilut of Vascular Specialists says there is definitely a huge point to trying to get more sleep: your vascular and overall health. “Adults need about seven to nine hours of sleep each night,” Dr. T says. “While it’s still unclear if poor sleep causes vascular issues or if vascular issues cause poor sleep, it’s important to recognize that better sleep means better health.”

Sleep Apnea
About 2-9% of adults in the U.S. suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and this condition has been clearly associated with diabetes, stroke, heart attack and an earlier mortality. Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the airway collapse while sleeping. This causes a lack of oxygen, disturbing the sleeper and changing their heart rate. This could happen hundreds of times per night, leading to autonomic instability and sleep fragmentation. 

Put simply, the sleeper is being deprived of the different stages of sleep, each functioning in a different way to restore the cells in our bodies. Without proper sleep, our cells don’t get repaired and our systems are not cleared of toxins. This causes inflammation, which raises the risk of vascular disease, hypertension. diabetes, heart disease, stroke and more. 

Obesity and Sleep
Being overweight is a major risk factor for chronic sleep problems and sleep problems can contribute to obesity. Extra weight increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, which increases your risk of arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis, both associated with chronic wounds, increasing the risk of amputation. 

Poor sleep can lead to obesity because your body has a higher stress level, leading you to be less physically active and to indulge in foods loaded with sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.

Pain at Night
Sometimes, the symptoms of vascular disease can keep us awake at night. If you feel a throbbing or a pulse near your bellybutton - at any time of night or day - it’s important to call your doctor immediately so you can be screened for an abdominal aortic aneurysm. 

Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, may cause tingling in your feet or toes that keeps you awake. More serious PAD can cause pain in the legs that is only relieved when a person stands or sits up with leg dangling off the side of the bed. This is also an urgent medical condition, requiring an appointment with your vascular specialists as soon as possible.  

During healthy sleep, your blood pressure goes down. Poor sleep keeps your blood pressure up, contributing to arteriosclerosis. 

When you have trouble sleeping, take these steps:

Dr. T says, “If you’re having trouble sleeping for more than a few nights, it’s time to see your physician. Tell your doctor if you’re drowsy during the day, if you wake at night and can’t fall back to sleep, or if you feel like you wake up just as tired as you were when you went to bed. Helping your health care professionals understand your sleep habits is just as important to disease development as measuring your blood pressure and heart rate.”

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