How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Heart

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Jing Zhang is a prominent figure in the realm of sleep research, specializing in the intricate connection between sleep and memory. With an extensive research tenure exceeding 7 years, she…

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By Geoff McKinnen Certified Sleep Coach

Last Updated On November 15th, 2023
How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Heart

Key Takeaways

  • Sleep Deprivation and Heart Health: There are detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on heart health. Inadequate sleep is linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, weight gain, diabetes, and inflammation.
  • Direct Impact on Heart Function: Sleep deprivation directly affects various aspects of heart function, including blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. The lack of sleep can disrupt the body’s natural rhythm, leading to hypertension, irregular heartbeats, and elevated blood sugar levels.
  • Indirect Effects and Lifestyle Choices: Indirect impacts of sleep deprivation on heart health include weight gain, increased stress levels, and poor lifestyle choices. Maintaining healthy sleep habits, a balanced diet, and stress management techniques can mitigate the risks associated with sleep deprivation and promote overall well-being.

The heart is a vital organ that is responsible for making sure that all other body organs are getting enough oxygen to function properly.

Any problems with the heart’s function can become a leading cause of illness and death. During sleep, as the heart slows to its normal sleeping heart rate, the human body undergoes the repair and restore process, which plays a key role in overall physical health.

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Recent research has Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source increasingly unveiled that sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of hypertensive heart disease.

Let’s dive deeper into how interlinked they are.

Can Lack of Sleep Affect the Heart?

Lack of sleep can have profound effects on the heart. Sleep deprivation or fragmented sleep can have several negative effects on heart health.

During the non-rapid eye movement  (NREM) stage, the body temperature gets lower, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, and breathing stabilizes. These changes reduce the pressure from the heart and allow it to recover from the strain that occurs while working.

It’s almost inevitable to stay up sometimes to meet demands from work or school, but your heart might have to pay for it. Sleep expert Dr. Jing Zhang pointed out, several studies have shown that sleeping less than six hours significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, non-fatal cardiovascular events, and cardiovascular death,

Insufficient sleep can put your heart at risk of:

  • Coronary heart disease and stroke: People who sleep for less than six hours a night are at a 48% increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source and a 15% greater risk of developing or dying from stroke.
  • Hypertension: Studies have found that short sleepers are at a higher risk of Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source developing hypertension or high blood pressure. Deep sleep help regulate the stress hormone and keeps the nervous system healthy.
  • Weight gain and obesity: Lack of sleep affects the mechanism of digestion and can lead to weight gain. In turn, this weight gain can lead to more sleep issues like sleep apnea. See more about the relationship between sleep and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Diabetes: Sleep deprivation affects the glucose processing in the body, which puts you at a high risk of diabetes. In turn, diabetes can affect how well you sleep.
  • Inflammation: chronic sleep deprivation can increase inflammation in the body.

For a healthy heart, a normal sleep duration should be between 7 to 9 hours. Modern research Verified Source Harvard Health Blog run by Harvard Medical School offering in-depth guides to better health and articles on medical breakthroughs. View source has found that people who fall asleep between 10 and 11 p.m. may be less likely to develop heart disease than those who sleep before or after it.

Direct Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Heart

Sleep deprivation has a series of interconnected consequences for cardiovascular health.

Sleep and Blood Pressure

In a healthy individual, the blood pressure drops Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source by around 10-20% while sleeping. This phenomenon is known as nocturnal dipping and plays a crucial role in heart health.

It provides enough time for the cardiovascular system to have a brief respite.

People with sleep deprivation miss this natural dip and are susceptible to many complications. Studies have found that people who sleep less than six hours a night have a high risk of developing hypertension.

Lack of Sleep and Elevated Heart Rate

A high blood pressure during the daytime has been identified as a consequence of disturbed sleep. It was found in multiple studies Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source that people with mostly light sleep or short sleep time are prone to elevated heart rates.

There’s also the potential for an irregular heart beat. Sleep deprivation can directly impact the electrical system that controls heart rate, making arrhythmias more likely to occur. Irregular heartbeats and palpitations are common symptoms in people with sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.

The pauses in breathing during sleep apnea cause oxygen levels in the blood to drop, which triggers the release of stress hormones. These hormones disrupt the heart’s normal electrical impulses.

Frequent arousals and fragmented sleep also interfere with the nervous system signals that coordinate the heart’s rhythm. This makes the heart more prone to beating too quickly, too slowly, or erratically.

Over time, chronic sleep loss and accompanying stress on the cardiovascular system can cause lasting damage to the heart’s electrical system. This damage raises the risk of developing chronic arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation, which is associated with an increased risk of stroke.

See also our guide to heart rate variability and sleep.

Disruption of Blood Sugar Levels

Sleep hygiene is vital for the body’s ability to regulate glucose and insulin, which are essential factors in energy metabolism. Sleep deprivation or lack of sleep can lead to insulin resistance. It is a condition where cells don’t respond to insulin as effectively and result in elevated blood sugar levels.

People who have a history of insufficient or restless sleep may have a harder time controlling their blood sugar.


Insufficient or disturbed sleep can cause inflammation Verified Source Wiley Multinational publishing company specializing in academic and instructional materials. View source in the body. When sleep is restricted, the natural process of repair and rejuvenation gets restricted. The blood pressure doesn’t get to take a dip as it should, which can trigger cells in blood vessel walls.

This mechanism causes inflammation, which can contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Essentially, sleep deprivation increases levels of platelets and inflammatory markers. Higher amounts of these substances make blood more likely to clot and can damage blood vessels. This significantly raises the chances of blockages forming that can obstruct blood flow and trigger heart attacks and strokes.

Indirect Effects of Sleep on Heart Health

The direct effects of sleep deprivation on human health are evident and may have a lasting impact on overall health. However, many changes occur on a broader physiological and behavioral front that cause several indirect effects.

Increased Weight

Sleep deprivation can disrupt the hunger-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin, which can lead to a disbalance in your appetite and calorie intake. Specifically, Dr. Jing Zhang adds, not having enough sleep can lead to our brains craving high-calorie food items, an experience we might all be familiar with. This imbalance also affects metabolism and results in weight gain.

Excess weight, especially around the lower abdomen, makes you prone to developing heart conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Studies have found Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source that those sleeping 5 hours or less are at 15% risk of developing obesity, and the risk has decreased to 6% in those sleeping 6 hours compared to those sleeping for 7 to 8 hours a night.

Stress & Cortisol

Not having sufficient sleep at night can increase your stress levels, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source leading to an increased production of cortisol — the primary stress hormone. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source High levels of cortisol can lead to various health issues, including elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and inflammation.

High cortisol levels in the body can lead to other concerning behaviors like overeating or a high intake of caffeine that indirectly impacts heart functioning.

Lifestyle Choices

Sleep deprivation causes fatigue and mood disturbances. These minor issues influence the way we feel and make choices throughout the day.

Moreover, a sleep-deprived individual tends to opt for high-sugar, high-fat comfort foods and less physical activity — a perfect combination of worst choices for heart health.

On the cognitive front, sleep deprivation causes the feeling of exhaustion and can impair judgment and decision-making, and you might tend to make impulsive decisions.

Sleep and Heart Health During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a transformative period that entails profound physiological, hormonal, and emotional changes. Sufficient sleep is crucial to maintain overall health, but there are many challenges that complicate sleeping well during pregnancy.

During this phase, the woman’s body needs additional care and nutrients to support both the fetus and the mother. A woman’s cardiac volume increases by up to 50% to nourish the growing fetus. The heart has to work harder, which leads to elevated heart rates and high blood pressure.

Moreover, pregnant women are likely Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source to develop sleep apnea — a condition with repeated breathing interruptions during sleep. This condition leads to reduced oxygen levels which increase the blood pressure and strain on the heart.

Sufficient sleep of 7 to 8 hours is essential for overall emotional well-being. While hormones are taking massive shifts, the inability to sleep for long hours might cause disruption.

Heart Health Consequences

The cumulative effects of insufficient sleep can have severe consequences for cardiovascular health over time. Chronic sleep deprivation puts tremendous strain on the heart and circulatory system, significantly increasing the risk for adverse cardiac events such as a heart attack.

Multiple studies have found strong associations between short sleep duration and greater incidence of coronary heart disease, heart failure, irregular heart rhythms, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. Adults under the age of 60 who regularly get less than 5 hours of sleep per night have a significantly greater risk Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source of cardiovascular issues compared to those getting their needed hours of sleep.

Insufficient sleep hampers the heart’s ability to effectively pump blood throughout the body. This leads to impaired blood flow, oxygen delivery, and removal of waste products. Over time, tissues and organs become damaged from the lack of oxygen and nutrients.

The combination of high blood pressure, inflammation, and increased clotting factors caused by sleep loss also gradually damages blood vessels. This accelerates the buildup of fatty plaques in arteries, raising the chances of blockages that can trigger heart attacks and strokes.

Studies have found Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source that people with obstructive sleep apnea – where breathing repeatedly stops during sleep – have a greater risk of having a stroke or cardiovascular disease. Sleep apnea stresses the cardiovascular system through oxygen deprivation and blood pressure surges each time breathing halts.

Lack of sleep also worsens other conditions like diabetes, obesity, and depression which negatively impact heart health. The chronic stress and strain on the body from sleep deprivation lead to progressive declines in cardiovascular function over time.

Without adequate restorative sleep, the heart muscle weakens and the risks of arrhythmias, heart failure, cardiac arrest, and sudden death rise exponentially. Research indicates Verified Source Oxford Academic Research journal published by Oxford University. View source that chronically sleeping less than 6 hours per night can shorten lifespan significantly.

Prioritizing sufficient high-quality sleep is one of the best ways to protect long-term cardiovascular health. It’s never too late to adopt a healthy sleep schedule, Dr. Jing Zhang suggests. In fact, research shows that getting longer sleep (more than 9 hrs) or adding naps would restore some of the damages brought by sleep deprivation.

Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep allows the heart and blood vessels to fully recuperate and optimizes overall well-being. Addressing sleep deficiencies early on can help prevent the development of serious heart problems down the road.

When Should You See a Doctor for Heart Concerns?

Your heart is a vital organ, so it’s important to monitor it closely and seek medical care if you notice any concerning symptoms. Contact your doctor right away if you experience:

  • Chest pain, tightness, or pressure: This could indicate a heart attack. Seek emergency care immediately if the pain does not go away after 5 minutes of rest.
  • Irregular heartbeat: Feeling your heart race, flutter, or skip beats can signify an arrhythmia. This requires prompt evaluation, especially if accompanying symptoms like dizziness or fainting.
  • Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing could stem from heart failure or other cardiovascular conditions. Seek emergency care if severe shortness of breath comes on suddenly. See also our guide to shortness of breath causes when lying down.
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness: If these symptoms occur along with chest pain or shortness of breath, it warrants urgent medical care to rule out heart issues.
  • Swelling in the legs or abdomen: Fluid retention in these areas may be a warning sign of heart failure or kidney problems linked to poor heart function.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience persistent fatigue, even with adequate rest, as it can indicate an underlying heart problem.

Routine preventative care is also key—have regular checkups to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular health. Early detection of any abnormalities can prevent further progression of heart disease.

Don’t hesitate to call your physician with any concerns about your heart health—even subtle symptoms should not be ignored. Prompt evaluation and treatment are essential when it comes to maintaining your heart’s well-being.

Lifestyle Changes for Better Sleep

Incorporating healthy sleep habits into your daily routine is essential for getting consistent, high-quality sleep. Here are some beneficial lifestyle changes to improve sleep:

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. This helps regulate the body’s internal clock for better nighttime resting.
  • Optimize your sleep environment by keeping the bedroom quiet, cool, and dark. Consider using blackout curtains, sleeping with a fan on or other background noise, and ensure the mattress and pillows are comfortable.
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine close to bedtime. Caffeine can remain in the body for 6-8 hours and disrupt sleep.
  • Establish a relaxing pre-bed routine like taking a bath, reading, or doing light stretches. Dim the lights and put away electronic devices at least 1 hour before bed.
  • Get regular exercise for good sleep, but complete workouts at least 3 hours before bedtime. Exercise raises body temperature – allow time to cool down before sleeping.
  • Be mindful of fluid intake – limit fluids close to bedtime to prevent midnight bathroom trips. But stay well hydrated for better sleep during the day.
  • Eat a light and healthy snack before bed like nuts, crackers, or yogurt. Going to bed hungry or too full can interfere with sleep.
  • Reduce daytime napping to no more than 30 minutes. Long daytime naps make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  • Consider cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to address anxious thoughts or a racing mind that delay sleep.

Making healthy lifestyle choices can significantly improve sleep quality and duration. However, consult a doctor if problems persist for potential sleep disorders. Prioritizing healthy sleep is a wise investment in your overall well-being.


Can lack of sleep cause heart palpitations?

While occasional heart palpitations can be a normal occurrence and may not always be a cause for concern, chronic sleep deprivation can potentially contribute to an increased risk. Sleep deprivation has been associated with increased sympathetic nervous system activity, which can elevate heart rate and blood pressure, potentially leading to palpitations.

Furthermore, sleep deprivation can result in excess production of stress hormones like cortisol and contribute to heightened stress levels, which can also trigger palpitations in some individuals. Stress and anxiety, often linked with sleep disturbances, can activate the body’s “fight or flight” response, leading to an increase in heart rate and potential palpitations.

Can lack of sleep cause low BP?

Studies have found that lack of sleep can cause high blood pressure during the day and can be an onset of developing heart disease. There’s no direct relation between lack of sleep and low blood pressure. However, factors like dehydration, prolonged bed rest, and certain medications, along with sleep deprivation, can result in low blood pressure.

Does sleep deprivation cause chest problems?

While sleep deprivation can contribute to various health issues, direct chest problems are not typically associated with it. However, a 2022 study Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source found that excessive sleep and insufficient sleep, both imbalances in sleep duration, are linked to a heightened risk of chest pain. Maintaining a balanced and consistent sleep schedule is important in managing the risk of developing chest pain and associated health complications.

Additionally, sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to respiratory infections and illnesses that could affect the chest and respiratory system. And prolonged sleep deprivation overall can lead to a range of health concerns, including increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and irregular heartbeats, which might indirectly impact the chest.

Does lack of sleep cause anxiety attacks?

Chronic or persistent lack of sleep can contribute to increased stress levels and potentially exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. The relationship between sleep and anxiety is complex and bidirectional, with each condition often influencing the other. See, sleep plays a crucial role in regulating various physiological and cognitive functions, including the body’s stress response.

Inadequate or disrupted sleep can lead to heightened activation of the body’s stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can contribute to increased feelings of anxiety and emotional reactivity. Furthermore, individuals with pre-existing anxiety disorders may be more susceptible to sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns. Anxiety can manifest as racing thoughts, worry, and restlessness, making it difficult to fall asleep fast.

What are the dangers of lack of sleep?

Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to impaired cognitive function, weakened immune system, and increased susceptibility to chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, sleep deprivation can impair motor function and decision-making, increasing the likelihood of accidents and injuries, while also disrupting hormone levels, potentially impacting various bodily functions and processes.

To mitigate the dangers of sleep deprivation, it’s crucial to prioritize healthy sleep habits, maintain a consistent sleep schedule, and practice good sleep hygiene. Creating a comfortable sleep environment, addressing any underlying sleep disorders, and seeking professional guidance when necessary can significantly improve overall well-being and reduce the risks associated with chronic sleep deficiency.

Does Getting Enough Sleep Help Your Heart?

Sufficient sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy heart. Quality rest offers multiple benefits and is crucial for a healthy lifestyle, and the ability to fall asleep fast and sleep deeply is an important factor in maintaining good physical health.

Following simple sleep-friendly practices like a wind-down routine, having simple small meals, and a good bedroom environment, can facilitate falling asleep quickly.

While modern life glorifies business, it is important to prioritize your sleep as an act of self-care. Difficulties in achieving sleep onset swiftly or staying asleep could be an onset of sleep disorders and should be addressed on time.

About the author

Geoff McKinnen is a writer focusing mainly on the healthcare industry and has written articles on everything from foods to help you lose weight to the connection between Alzheimer’s and sleep. Geoff’s passionate about helping readers improve their well-being to lead happier lives. Outside of work, Geoff enjoys cycling and hiking and believes that by leading a healthy lifestyle, he can help others do the same.

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