Do you sleep well at night? The quality of sleep – whether more or less sleep – affects many aspects of your health, including your cholesterol levels.
Before analyzing the relationship between sleep and cholesterol, let’s look at what exactly is cholesterol, which is divided into two types, LDL and HDL.
High LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol, causes fatty plaque to build up in your arteries, which can lead to heart disease. HDL on the other hand is ‘good’ cholesterol because it helps remove LDL, preventing heart disease.
What happens during sleep
During sleep your body recovers and recharges. It releases hormones that help your tissues and cells repair themselves after so many hours of being awake. Your blood pressure drops, your heart rate slows down and your breathing relaxes, while your heart is recovering from the hard work during the day.
What happens when you don’t sleep properly
Research has shown that if we suffer from insomnia or if we do not sleep properly – 7 to 8 hours every night – we can develop health problems, which can lead to high cholesterol.
In a study of 2,705 adults, participants who tended to sleep very little each night were more likely to have high triglycerides and low HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol, although their LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels were not affected by their sleep. People who slept 8 hours a night had the highest HDL counts.
Why does sleep affect cholesterol?
If you do not rest, the basic hormones can be disrupted. Your body can produce too much of the stress hormone cortisol and the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin, but very little leptin, which regulates body weight. This hormonal imbalance can also lead to an imbalance of your cholesterol.
Poor sleep quality can also affect cholesterol. People with intermittent sleep apnea – when breathing stops and starts overnight – often have high total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol levels. People with sleep apnea also tend to be overweight, which can lead to high cholesterol.
Too little sleep
Lack of sleep can affect the cholesterol of men and women in different ways. In one large study, men who slept less than 6 hours most nights had higher LDL cholesterol, but women who slept the same amount had lower LDL cholesterol. Men and women who snored during sleep had lower HDL cholesterol levels.
Sleep deprivation can also raise cholesterol levels. In one study, sleep-deprived mice had higher blood cholesterol and more accumulated cholesterol in their liver. Rodents also had lower levels of a liver enzyme that helps process cholesterol.
Many hours of sleep
Excessive sleep can also affect cholesterol. In an adult study in Japan, women who slept 8 or more hours a night tended to have low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides.
How to improve your sleep
To have the right amount of high quality sleep every night, follow these tips:
- Set daily hours to go to bed and wake up.
- Plan to get at least 7 but no more than 8 hours of sleep a night.
- Do not sleep less at night during the week and do not try to make up the difference on weekends.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet. If it helps, turn on a fan, install curtains or light-blocking shadows, and use earmuffs.
- Read a book or take a bubble bath to relax before going to bed.
- Do not leave your cell phone next to your bed.
- Do not go to bed hungry or too soon after eating a heavy meal.
- Reduce alcohol, caffeine or nicotine products that can disrupt sleep.
- Before going to bed, reduce stress and muscle tension with gentle stretching.
- If you are anxious about the next day, write in a diary or fill out your to-do list and then put it in the nightstand drawer. You can deal with it the next day.
What about sleeping pills?
Medication can help you rest during a stressful period or when travel disrupts your normal schedule. But in the long run, healthy habits are the best way to promote a good night’s sleep.