Sleep Your Way to Better Heart Health

Hitting the hay can do much more than leave you feeling refreshed. Sound, quality sleep (7 to 8 hours a night) [2] is connected with reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to recent research. [1] But getting a good night’s rest isn’t as easy as counting sheep. Lots of things interfere with slumber, and what’s worse, you might unknowingly have some habits that are hampering your sleep. Before you tuck yourself in tonight, check out these six tips for better shut-eye and a healthier heart.

1. Stop drinking coffee by noon.

The caffeine in that cup of joe can stay in your system for more than 8-14 hours -- and some people are more sensitive to its jolt than others. That means if you’re sipping java past noon, the stimulant may still affect you at bedtime. [2, 3]

2. Get some exercise.

Aim to get about 30 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise each day to keep your heart healthy. But know that getting your heart pumping too close to bedtime may make it tougher to fall asleep. A good strategy: Exercise early in the day and then do some gentle stretching or yoga before bed. [3, 4]

3. Power down.

If your pillow time includes checking in on social media, you’ll likely have to update your status to sleepy the next day. The blue wavelengths of light emitted by smartphones, laptops, and tablets suppress melatonin, a hormone that aids in sound sleep, according to a Mayo Clinic study. The fix: Hold the screen at least 14 inches from your face and dim the display. Better yet, give your electronics a rest about a half hour before you plan to turn in for the night. [5, 6]

4. Take a nap.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends taking a brief mid-afternoon nap to improve alertness -- about 20 to 30 minutes is perfect. Taking a siesta could even help your heart. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that napping may help lower the risk of death from heart disease. Just make it before 4 p.m., as nodding off too close to bedtime may make it harder for you to sleep come nightfall. [7]

5. Set the right temperature.

Cooler bedrooms most closely match the body’s natural nighttime decrease in temperature. The sweet zone is between 54 F and 75 F -- any temperature above or below could interrupt sleep, according to researchers. [8]

6. Look for light during the day.

The body’s biological clock is influenced by exposure to sunlight and getting some rays during the day will help regulate your sleeping pattern. For example, opening your curtains first thing in the morning to flood the room with light will help you feel more awake. And doing just the opposite at night will help prep your body for sleep. Block windows and turn any illuminated clocks away from the bed. If you happen to wake during the night, don’t flip on the light switch; you’ll go back to sleep more easily if the room stays dark. [3, 8]


1. Grandner MASands-Lincoln MRPak VMGarland SN

Sleep duration, cardiovascular disease, and proinflammatory biomarkers.

Nat Sci Sleep. 2013 Jul 22;5:93-107. doi: 10.2147/NSS.S31063. Print 2013.

2. American Academy of Sleep Medicine: Sleep & Caffeine

Accessed 8/8/2013

3. Harvard Health Publications: Insomnia: Restoring Restful Sleep

Accessed 8/8/2013

4. National Sleep Foundation: Nutrition, Exercise, and Sleep

Accessed 8/8/2013

5. Sleep Conference 2013: Abstract 532

Accessed 8/8/2013

6. .Are Smartphones Disrupting Your Sleep? Mayo Clinic Study Examines the Question

Accessed 8/8/2013

7. National Sleep Foundation: Napping

Accessed 8/8/2013

8. National Sleep Foundation: Sleep Environment:

Accessed 8/8/2013

Tummy Troubles? Just Say “Om”

Find inner peace -- not in your brain but in your belly -- with yoga. Certain gentle yoga poses focus on the muscles surrounding the digestive tract and, as a result, may help aid digestion and ease bloating or cramping. [1] Yoga is also a great way to relax. [2] Since stress has been shown to exasperate irritable bowel syndrome and other common digestive problems, yoga can become another tool in managing these health issues. [1, 3, 4] (Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.) [5] The following four poses (and one breathing exercise) are suitable for beginners and can be done daily at any time. [1]

Seated Twist

Sit comfortably on the floor with your legs crossed. Gently turn your torso to the left, placing your right hand on the left knee for leverage. Place the left palm on the floor near your tailbone, with fingers facing away from you. (This posture will straighten the spine and prevent slouching.) Turn your head to the left and gaze over your shoulder. Hold for five slow inhales and exhales. Switch hand positions as you gently twist to the opposite side. Do one twist for each side, or more if it feels good. [1]

Knees to Chest

Lie comfortably on your back and hug both knees to your chest. Hold for five slow inhales and exhales. Then, on your fifth exhale, extend one leg forward (heel just a few inches off the floor) while continuing to hug the opposite knee. Inhale as you switch sides. Continue alternating legs and breaths for 30 to 60 seconds, or for as long as is comfortable. [1]

Child’s Pose

Kneel on the floor with your big toes together, knees apart (slightly wider than hip-width), and your bottom resting on your heels (if possible). Slowly lower your torso toward the floor, letting your thighs rest against your calves. Settle your chest and belly into the space between your knees and thighs, and drop your forehead to the floor. (If necessary, rest your forehead on your fists.) Your arms can either extend in front with palms down or extend behind at your sides with palms up. Slowly inhale and exhale for five breaths, or as long as is comfortable. [1]

Supine Twist

Lie on your back and draw both knees to your chest. Extend arms out to a T position, palms on the floor. Slowly let your knees fall to the left until the outside of the entire left leg touches the floor with the right leg stacked on top (knees remain bent). Hold for 60 seconds or more, slowly inhaling and exhaling. Repeat on the right side. [1]

Belly Breathing

Lie on your back (or sit in a supportive chair) and place one hand on your belly, just below the navel, and the other hand on your chest. Inhale slowly through the nose while feeling the belly inflate as the chest remains still. Then exhale slowly through the nose while feeling the belly deflate as the chest remains still. Continue for 5 to 10 minutes (or as long as is comfortable.) Try doing this after meals and throughout the day to center and relax you. [1]


Author is a registered yoga teacher instructor.

1. Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health

Accessed 9/9/2013

2. Mayo Clinic: Yoga

Accessed 8/9/2013

3. Johns Hopkins Medicine: Irritable Bowel Syndrome,P00384/

Accessed 8/9/2013

4. NDDIC: Indigestion

Accessed 8/9/2013

5. American Council on Exercise: Before You Start an Exercise Program

Accessed 8/9/2013

Stay Busy, Stay Young

The fountain of youth may be a myth, but there is something concrete we can do to maintain a youthful energy: chores. That’s right, recent studies indicate that diving into the mundane activities of our daily lives -- vacuuming or washing the car -- help us live better, longer.

The National Institute on Aging followed 302 healthy seniors for 6 years. The most active group burned 2,611 calories daily, compared with just 1,766 for the least active -- and the constant movers were 70% more likely to be alive at the study’s end. The researchers found that for every 287 additional calories the seniors expended each day, their mortality risk dropped 30%. The calorie difference came from one hour and 15 minutes of extra activity each day. Any type of moderate activity would yield the same results, including everyday housework like vacuuming, gardening, and climbing stairs.

In a second study, scientists from the University of Heidelberg in Germany tracked 791 people from their 20s into their senior years and discovered that those who became more active in their 40s cut their risk of heart disease by nearly the same amount as those who had maintained a lifetime of activity -- proving it’s never too late to start making investments in your health.

Try boosting your total daily calorie burn with these simple tasks*:

  • Raking: 136 calories.
  • Climbing stairs: 136 calories.
  • Playing with children 119 calories.
  • Washing the dog: 119 calories.
  • Sweeping indoors: 112 calories.
  • Washing the car or cleaning the garage: 119 calories.
  • Washing dishes: 61 calories.
  • Making the beds: 112 calories.

*Calories burned in 30 minutes for a 150-pound person.