Is Staying Up Late or Waking up Early Better for Your Heart?

Man covering head with pillow next to alarm clock

In modern society, especially in the corporate world, 9 to 5 has fallen out of favor. This has been made worse, somewhat counterintuitively, by the work-at-home movement brought about by Covid-19. While the average American worker typically had the opportunity for a decent work-life balance half a century ago, today, expectations and connectivity have made breaking away from work difficult, if not impossible. Staying late or waking up early or both to work and be productive have become virtues, and the concept of sitting back and relaxing has all but disappeared.

One of the byproducts of this lifestyle is obesity, an excess weight epidemic that has created a true medical emergency, not only here in the US but even abroad. As a follow-up to the weight problem we face, we have seen heart disease rates stay stubbornly high, even though we know the consequences of our actions and have ever better treatments to keep our hearts healthy.

A byproduct of this hectic and high-stress lifestyle is a lack of sleep. And while the saying goes, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” the unfortunate truth is that that time may come sooner without proper sleep habits throughout your life. Sleep is critically important, as shown in what can only be considered a shocking statistic. The day with statistically the most heart attacks is the Monday after Daylight Saving Time. Why? Adjusting by just one hour significantly affects our sleep and health patterns. Before continuing, it’s worth noting that a change in just one hour of sleep over a year is unlikely to affect someone with a healthy and strong heart significantly. However, it can be a difference-maker for someone with severe cardiovascular disease. In other words, we are trying to illustrate how vital sleep is.

So, does it make more sense to go to bed or wake up early or late? We understand that, for most of us, time is at a premium, and we often have the choice to wake up early or sleep late to check all the boxes on our to-do list. But is one better than the other? The short answer is that for most, waking up early is more productive and generally better for stress levels than sleeping late. This is because the brain is much more alert early in the morning than it is late at night.

That said, some of us are night owls, not just because of our habits but also our circadian rhythm. Finding out if you’re a night owl requires some introspection and mindfulness. Spend the next few days noting when you begin to get tired. This will give you a better idea of when you should go to bed. Listen to your body; it will offer you the best guidance on your sleep patterns and behaviors.

Habits Matter

Regardless of when we sleep or wake up, we often follow poor habits in the evening that can lead to poor sleep, making this all a moot point. Sometimes, even if we’ve had enough sleep – say seven or eight hours, we are still tired in the morning and throughout the day. This is because relatively few people get quality sleep – the cornerstone to a rejuvenated mind and body. So, before deciding whether you should stay up late or wake up early to get to work or do the chores, try the following to improve the quality of your sleeve and maximize your current habits.

  • Spend a little time outside in the morning after you wake up. This could be as simple as taking your coffee on the patio or grabbing a quick walk. Getting light early in the morning can help keep your circadian rhythm on track and get you motivated and energized for the day.
  • Avoid eating 2 to 3 hours before bed. Late-night snacking adds calories and may keep you awake or uncomfortable while falling asleep. It’s best to avoid alcohol late in the evening, and exercise should be done earlier in the day. The former can make you tired but ultimately leads to poor sleep. The latter can get you excitable right at the time when you should be starting to fall asleep. Of course, drinking caffeine any time in the afternoon increases your risk of not being able to get to sleep.
  • Devices are also a problem in modern-day lifestyles. Between phones, computers, and televisions, we are bombarded with blue light that throws off our circadian rhythm and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. For some, glasses that filter out blue light can be beneficial. However, shutting off all devices an hour or two before bed is an excellent practice. This is a time when you should minimize stimulation.
  • Lastly, your environment. Now may be a good time if you haven’t explored a new mattress or pillows in a while. Despite these often costing a significant amount of money, it’s worth remembering that you spend a third of every day in bed. You’ll also want to ensure your sleeping environment is as dark as possible. Lastly, keeping the room relatively cold promotes deep sleep.

Medical Conditions

You must also evaluate any medical conditions that may be impairing your sleep. This is especially true for sleep apnea, where your airway obstructs while sleeping. Typically, your partner can tell you if you snore loudly or seem to stop breathing in the middle of the night. This is classic obstructive sleep apnea. Not only can this worsen heart disease, but getting through the day will be more challenging as you’ll likely be tired and unmotivated. Other issues like chronic acid reflux or GERD can keep you awake as gastric juices irritate the sensitive lining of the esophagus. While there are effective ways to treat both conditions, losing weight and improving diet and exercise are the most effective and safe options.

If, after implementing this practical advice to get better sleep, also known as sleep hygiene, you do not see any improvement in how you feel or in the various biomarkers like blood pressure and excess weight, you should speak to a qualified physician or sleep therapist. We do not suggest using sleep aids – over-the-counter or prescription – unless your doctor has deemed them necessary, as they can cause dependence or adverse effects.

We encourage you to visit your cardiologist for all things heart health-related and to learn more about what to do moving forward. Doing so is a great way to get a baseline reading of your heart health and see how simple yet effective sleep habits can improve your health and productivity. Call us to schedule a consultation. We look forward to seeing you!