Your heart during sleep

Did you know that your heart rate slows down when you are sleeping? And how does a healthy sleep pattern benefit your heart? Read more about this and learn our tips on how to sleep better if you have heart problems.

What is a normal heart rate?

The average heart rate at rest is 70 beats per minute. A resting heart rate below 45 is very low and is called a slow heart rate, or bradycardia. This can be due to cardiac insufficiency or to an enlarged heart with trained athletes.

A normal heart rate is necessary to pump enough fresh blood through the body. The blood supplies oxygen and nutrients to the organs and the muscles, and it carries away waste products and CO2. If your heart is beating too slow, not enough blood is pumped through your body. Trained athletes are an exception to this rule, since their heart is larger and stronger. Bradycardia can cause a wide variety of complaints, such as shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, fainting or chest pain. However, you may not experience any problems.

An excessively low heart rate can be due to reduced pumping capacity and reduced contraction force of the heart, to poor operation of one or more heart valves or to cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). Some medications can also cause bradycardia. A low heart rate is also a consequence of ageing.

heart during sleep

Heart rate during sleep

Your heart rate also changes during sleep. The deeper the sleep, the slower your heart rate and breathing. When you are in deepest sleep, your muscles become totally relaxed, so your heart rate and breathing are much slower and very regular. During REM sleep, also called the dream phase, your blood pressure and breathing increase and your heart rate becomes faster and less regular. This process repeats several times while you are sleeping.

People with cardiopulmonary insufficiency or sleep apnoea can experience problems while sleeping. The quality of their sleep can be reduced because their heart rate becomes too low, and they wake up (perhaps unconsciously) due to insufficient oxygen supply.

Cardiac arrhythmia can also disrupt sleep. Many people have more problems with too many or too few heartbeats while sleeping if they sleep in a certain posture, such as on their belly.

New study shows a link between sleep problems and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease

A recent study shows that healthy sleep patterns are associated with a one-third lower risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. The study was carried out at the Tulane University Obesity Research Centre in the USA and was published in the European Heart Journal on 18 December 2019.

Persons with healthy sleep behaviours such as going to bed on time and sleeping 7 to 8 hours, little or no insomnia, not snoring, and not experiencing frequent drowsiness during the day, had a one-third lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a one-third lower risk of a stroke, as compared to persons who reported none or only one of these healthy sleep behaviours.

Poor sleep has an aggravating effect on persons with a higher genetic risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke. Turning this around, one can say that persons with a low genetic risk lose part of their inherent protection if they exhibit poor sleep behaviour.

This again proves the importance of good sleep for your health. Read our sleep tips and try some of them that apply to you.


heart during sleep research

Tips for better sleep with heart problems

To sleep better if you have heart problems, it’s important to ask your cardiologist for advice. Suitable medication can help you sleep better. Finally, the following tips can also help you sleep better:

  • Sleep less on your belly and invest in a good sleeping system to improve the quality of your sleep. This allows your body and mind to recover well, and it lets you get up in the morning with a more energetic heart. A correct sleeping posture improves blood circulation and gives organs that act as pumps, such as the heart, more room. This makes it easier for them to do their jobs.
  • With proper support, the proportion of deep sleep will improve because you will not be woken up by increased muscle tension or pain sensations.
  •  To develop a good biorhythm, go to bed at (around) the same time and get up at around the same time.
  • Eat healthy with a balanced diet and watch out for overweight.
  • Get enough and frequent exercise throughout the day.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption before going to bed and drink moderately in general.
  • Reduce or stop smoking. Do not smoke right before going to bed, as it causes a higher heart rate and restless sleep.