February 8, 2009

Women: Good Night’s Sleep Good For Your Heart Health

Getting a good night's rest may help women minimize their risk of developing heart disease, say physicians at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"Research has shown a link between sleep disturbances and the risk of developing heart disease," said Dr. Bhuvana Muthuswamy, assistant professor of medicine at BCM. "Chronic sleep deprivation increases severity of hypertension, diabetes and memory loss. Sleep-disordered breathing like obstructive sleep apnea (when a person snores and stops breathing several times a night), increases risk of hypertension, heart attacks and congestive heart failure."
Eight is great

Women need about eight hours of sleep a night, said Muthuswamy, although some may require more or less, depending on the individual.

"There is no set number. Some people may need six to seven hours, others may need nine to have a productive day," said Muthuswamy, also an assistant professor in The Women's Center for Comprehensive Care at BCM.
Key behavior changes

To achieve a healthy sleep schedule, Muthuswamy said women can make key behavioral changes.

  • Maintain a regular sleep/wake time
  • Exercise regularly, but avoid exercising three hours prior to bedtime
  • Finish eating two to three hours prior to bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine and chocolate about six to eight hours prior to bedtime
  • Restrict fluids, especially alcohol, close to bedtime
  • Eliminate stress

Most importantly, Muthuswamy said, eliminating added stress is critical for a good night's rest.

"Approximately half of all sleep problems are attributed to stress," said Muthuswamy. "Relax with a good book, music or a bath before bedtime."

Women have more sleep-related complaints than men, another reason why women have a higher risk of developing heart disease, Muthuswamy said.
Common sleep problems

"Gender differences in sleep are pronounced after puberty," said Muthuswamy. "Menstrual cycles, pregnancy, menopause, lifestyle, job and family alter sleep patterns significantly."

Common sleep disturbances in women include:

  • Insomnia: trouble initiating and maintaining sleep
  • Sleep apnea: snoring and episodes of cessation of breathing
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Narcolepsy: excessive daytime sleepiness

"Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women. It is six times more common than breast cancer," said Muthuswamy. "Women need to be aware of their heart risks so that they can work on preventing and treating the risks early."

Muthuswamy said other risk factors include:

  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Family history of premature heart disease
  • Hormone replacement therapy


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