Getting a full night’s sleep as we age becomes more difficult for a multitude of reasons.  Common complaints after awakening from a restless night might range from, “That coffee must have been regular and not decaf,” to “The neighbor’s dog barked all night,” to “I need to get a new mattress.” However, many of the less-obvious reasons for poor sleep may, in fact, be within our control.  Unhealthy daytime habits and lifestyle choices can directly affect overall sleep quantity and quality.

Increased Risk of Health Issues

Patients with cardiovascular disease often suffer additional negative effects from poor sleep. In a recent study, lower overall sleeping time and fragmented sleep were independently associated with an increased risk of diffuse atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries caused by plaque buildup). Often referred to as “hardening of the arteries,” atherosclerosis progresses without symptoms. Moderate to severe atherosclerosis in the arteries of the heart can manifest as chest pain or pressure, called angina. The plaque can also break apart, potentially creating a blood clot that can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Poor Sleep Quality is Common

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) poor sleep – defined as fewer than 7 hours each night – affects 1 in 3 adults. In addition to atherosclerosis, lack of sleep has also been connected to the following health issues:

  • High Blood Pressure – During healthy, normal sleep cycles, our blood pressure decreases. Having sleep problems means blood pressure stays higher for a longer period of time. High blood pressure is one of the leading risks for heart disease and stroke. About 75 million Americans – 1 in 3 adults – suffer from high blood pressure.
  • Type 2 Diabetes – Sleep disturbances impact a multitude of aspects of diabetes self-management, including increase insulin resistance. Some studies show that getting enough high-quality sleep may help improve blood sugar control.
  • Obesity – Lack of sleep can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Not getting enough sleep directly impacts our metabolic and neurotransmitters, which may also affect how the brain manages feelings of hunger.

Getting Enough Sleep is Not a Luxury

The good news? There are several straightforward steps you can take to improve both the quantity and quality of your sleep. The CDC recommends the following:

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends.
  • Enjoy enough natural light, especially earlier in the day. Try going for a morning walk or lunchtime walk.
  • Get enough physical activity during the day. Try not to exercise within a few hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid artificial light, especially within a few hours of bedtime. Use a blue light filter on your computer or smartphone.
  • Do not eat or drink within a few hours of bedtime. In particular, try to avoid alcohol and foods high in fat or sugar.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.

If you are still having trouble getting a solid night’s rest, talk to your doctor. They can help you identify other possible obstacles to good sleep, including your current medications or other potentially untreated medical conditions.