This is the No. 1 secret to cutting your heart disease risk. And I’m not talking about changing your diet. Or exercising like a fiend. I’m not even talking about lowering your stress.
No, it’s much simpler than that. But it’s incredibly important.
In fact, a recent Harvard study showed that men who don’t do this have a 55 percent higher rate of cardiovascular disease. And they have 25 percent higher risk of death.
Unfortunately, up to one-third of all Americans run these added risks…simply because they don’t get enough sleep.
Of course, you may feel extra sleepy at this time of year. The sky looks grey in many parts of the country. And all the extra hustle and bustle around the holidays can make you feel run down and tired. So, in the words of W. Clement Moore’s famous poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” you might want to settle in “for a long winter’s nap.”
Researchers now believe that getting proper sleep is critical to your health. And, more specifically, critical to your heart’s health. In fact, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Woman’s Hospital recently completed a very important sleep study.
For the study, researchers followed 23,447 men over six years. The participants came from Harvard’s Health Professional Study, which has been following a large group of men since 1986. (I often report about the many solid studies coming out of Harvard. There is nothing else like them in terms of quality.)
The researchers asked the men if they had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Those that said they did have trouble ran a 55 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease. They also had a 25 percent higher risk of death. That’s compared to men who said they sleep well.
Now, as I mentioned, this study was based on what participants reported about themselves. Next, I’d like to see the researchers conduct studies in a sleep lab to observe what patterns of sleep, or lack of sleep, lead to an increased cardiovascular risk.
The study’s lead author said he believes poor sleep influences the body’s hormonal system. And it may even increase chronic inflammation.
Getting enough sleep usually involves two scenerios…falling asleep and staying asleep. To help you fall asleep easier, make sure you follow these six steps:
1. Avoid caffeine: This is an obvious one. But a good place to start. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than they realize. And you should try to avoid it for all the afternoon hours of the day.
2. Exercise in the morning: This is another obvious one. But most people don’t realize how far away from bedtime they really should avoid exercise. Most experts believe you should not exercise in the four hours leading up to bedtime. So skip the after-work jog if you’re prone to insomnia.
3. Avoid screens at night: Don’t watch TV after 8 p.m. and don’t work on your computer either. TV screens and computer screens emit light that can fool your body into thinking it’s still daylight. Read a book instead. (And not on your tablet!) Some people wear a sleep mask over the eyes to keep out unwanted light.
Remember, the body is basically designed to rest with the setting sun and get up with the rising sun. Modern technology has gotten us off this track. The more artificial and artificially lighted the environment, the less healthy it is.
4. Take a bath or hot shower before bed: Taking a hot bath or shower before bed can raise your core temperature. And then, once you leave the hot water, your body temperature lowers quickly. And this signals your body to start producing melatonin, a hormone that helps you go to sleep.
5. Drink wine earlier: Everyone thinks that having a drink before bed helps them go to sleep. And this is true. But it’s also more likely to cause you to wake up in the middle of the night thirsty and dehydrated. So, have your glass of wine with dinner. And make sure to drink plenty water or Red Joe throughout the day to keep you hydrated.
6. Keep your room cool: You probably know that your bedroom’s temperature affects your sleep. But how low should you go? Ideally, experts say you should keep your bedroom between 60 and 68 degrees. In fact, researchers say that insomniacs tend to have a warmer core body temperature than normal sleepers just before bed. And this leads to heightened wakefulness. If that sounds like you, try pushing the thermostat down to 60 at bedtime and put a hot-water bottle at your feet. This will rapidly dilate your blood vessels and help cool your core temperature.
These six steps should help you fall asleep faster. Now, you just need to stay asleep.
And that’s a whole different ball of wax.
If you have chronic trouble staying asleep, I would bet that you suffer from sleep apnea. With this condition, the top of your airway closes off during sleep. Then, you briefly wake up form lack of air, so you can catch a breath. This can happen hundreds of times a night.
If you have sleep apnea, you should use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device. This keeps air blowing through your airway. And it prevents the airway from collapsing or closing.
You don’t have to go into a sleep lab to get a diagnosis. You can find devices for both diagnosing and treating this condition in the comfort of your own bed at home.
Unfortunately, the CPAP device looks and feels like an oxygen mask. But don’t let that deter you. This device could save your life.
In fact, wearing this device will not only improve your sleep. It will also improve your cardiovascular disease risk. A 2007 study found that men and women with mild-to-moderate sleep apnea reduced their cardiovascular disease risk by 67 percent…simply by wearing a CPAP device.
1. “ The Association between Insomnia Symptoms and Mortality: A Prospective Study of U.S. Men,” Circulation 2013;
2. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Treatment of Mild to Moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea Reduces Cardiovascular Risk,” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 2007; 176(12): 1274-1280.