Sleep’s Impact on Heart Rate

Our hearts are one of the most important organs in our body. They tirelessly pump blood throughout our bodies, ensuring that every cell receives the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. But, have you ever wondered how sleep affects your heart rate? In this article, we'll delve into this topic and shed light on how your sleep patterns can impact your heart health.

What is Heart Rate?

Before we move on to discuss the effects of sleep on heart rate, let's first understand what heart rate means. Heart rate refers to the number of heartbeats per minute. It varies based on factors such as age, gender, and physical activity level. The average resting heart rate for adults is 60 to 100 beats per minute.

The Role of the Autonomic Nervous System

The heart is regulated by the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling and coordinating the involuntary actions of our body. It contains two different branches, the sympathetic nervous system, and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system acts as a gas pedal, increasing the heart rate, while the parasympathetic nervous system acts as brakes, decreasing the heart rate.

How Sleep Affects Heart Rate

Sleep has different stages, and each stage has a different effect on heart rate. During the first stage of sleep, the heart rate slows down, and the body temperature drops. In contrast, during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, the heart rate increases, and breathing becomes more irregular.

Studies have shown that lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can adversely affect heart health. A lack of sleep has been linked to an increase in blood pressure, heart attacks, and an irregular heartbeat. Furthermore, people with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia are also at higher risk of developing heart disease.

Sleep Deprivation and Heart Health

Sleep deprivation, or not getting enough sleep, can lead to an increase in the "stress hormone" cortisol, which can raise blood pressure and heart rate. Lack of sleep can also cause inflammation in the body, which has been linked to the development of heart disease.

Sleep Disorders and Heart Health

Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, in which a person stops breathing briefly during sleep, can put a strain on the heart. It can lead to high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, and even heart failure if left untreated. On the other hand, insomnia, which is difficulty falling or staying asleep, can lead to an increase in stress hormones and can affect heart health.

Tips for Improving Sleep

Healthy sleep habits can promote good heart health. Here are some tips for improving the quality and quantity of sleep:

Stick to a sleep schedule:

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol:

These substances can interfere with sleep quality.

Limit daytime naps:

Napping during the day can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

Create a relaxing bedtime routine:

Establish a bedtime routine that can help you unwind and signal to your body that it's time to sleep.

Create a sleep-conducive environment:

Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet to promote good sleep.


In conclusion, sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining heart health. The different stages of sleep can affect heart rate, and lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can adversely affect heart health. Incorporating healthy sleep habits, such as sticking to a sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine, can promote good sleep quality and, in turn, good heart health.


1. Can sleep affect my blood pressure?
Yes, lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can lead to an increase in blood pressure.

2. Is sleep apnea a serious condition?
Yes, sleep apnea is a serious condition that can put a strain on the heart and lead to heart disease if left untreated.

3. How many hours of sleep do adults need?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep every night.

4. Does alcohol affect sleep quality?
Yes, alcohol can interfere with sleep quality and make it harder to get a good night's sleep.

5. Is it normal to wake up during the night?
Waking up during the night is common. However, if it happens frequently and affects your daily life, it may be a sign of a sleep disorder and should be discussed with a doctor.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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