Tossing and turning at night is more than just annoying – poor sleep triggers cardiovascular issues by plugging arteries with dangerous plaque and causing them to stiffen.

“Poor sleep can alter the regulation of hormones, it can cause increased inflammation,” said Dr. Kelsie Full, PhD, MPH, Asst. Prof. of Medicine Division of Epidemiology at Vanderbilt Univ. Med. Cen.

This causes fatty plaque buildup in arteries that can cause a stroke. Simultaneously, blood pressure soars, oxygen goes down and the body is prevented from cleansing and repairing itself.

“For the brain, sleep is the time when the brain is flushed of harmful toxins that can contribute to Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Dr. Full added.

The key to making this happen is getting good quality, consistent sleep, but many people suffer from irregular sleep patterns.

“In our large sample, we found that approximately 40% of adults had irregular sleep patterns, and their sleep was varying across the week by about 90 minutes or more. This is really important because sleep regularity is something that we can potentially target, so we can try to have more consistent bedtimes, we can try to wake up at about the same time,” said Full.

Dr. Full suggests effective sleep hygiene by minimizing light, lowering the thermostat and avoiding caffeine and stress.

Finally, keep a sleep journal for 10 days. If you realize you’re short on sleep, see your doctor.