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Not sleeping? You could be at risk for heart disease

February 15, 2018

Quality sleep plays a vital role in health and well-being. Likewise, poor sleep can cause problems for your health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports that damage caused from sleep deficiency can increase risks for many chronic health conditions, including heart failure.

According to the American Heart Association, one in five adults suffers from at least mild sleep apnea. In some cases, sleep apnea contributes to heart disease; for others, the reverse is true.

“Sleep disturbances can result in increased risk for heart disease,” said Deepthi Mosali, MD, a cardiologist with Kettering Health Network. “When people come in with heart failure symptoms, one of the first questions I ask them is about their sleep.”

There are two kinds of sleep apnea. When the brain is not sending the signals for proper breathing, the condition is known as central sleep apnea (CSA), which can be the result of progressive heart failure. The sicker you are, the more likely the patient is to experience CSA. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) -- exactly as the name implies -- occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked repeatedly, preventing proper airflow. OSA can contribute to heart disease in high-risk individuals.

“The best way to think about OSA is that, when people go to sleep, the body is relaxed. Your muscles relax all over, such as in your hands and your legs,” said Dr. Mosali. “When you’re lying flat and muscles relax in your throat, the airway can be obstructed. Your tongue goes back, and that interrupts the sleep cycle.”

Connection between sleep apnea and heart failure

If you have untreated OSA, you’re then at risk for other problems that contribute to heart failure, such as uncontrolled hypertension, high blood pressure, and weight issues. Because of the persistent lack of rest and elevated sympathetic adrenaline levels in the body, a person will experience higher blood pressure, inflammation, and changes in heart structure. The result is a greater risk for heart disease including arrhythmia, like atrial fibrillation, and heart failure because it raises stress in the pulmonary circuit.

Dr. Mosali suggests consulting a physician if:

  • You have restless nights and extreme sleepiness
  • You wake up feeling extremely tired
  • Your blood pressure is not well-controlled
  • You are experiencing an irregular heartbeat

All of these could be indicators that you may have some type of disturbed breathing associated with a sleep disorder, particularly in people who are overweight with uncontrolled high blood pressure. The symptoms also can be associated with factors that can lead to heart disease.

“The more of those broken sleep cycles you have, the worse off you are,” Dr. Mosali explained. “When sleep cycles are interrupted, and hormone levels of adrenaline increase at night, the physical effects will last into the day.”

The best solution is to ensure you’re getting a good night’s sleep. Regular physical activity not only will assist your nighttime sleep, it also can help you maintain a healthy weight, which is an important factor for avoiding both sleep apnea and heart failure. Limit your alcohol and caffeine consumption, and eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Incorporating a relaxing bedtime routine such as a warm bath and herbal tea can assist in promoting better sleep, as well.

To learn more about how poor sleep could be affecting your heart, click here to request a 30-minute heart screening. You also can call Kettering Health Network Heart and Vascular Care at (937) 395-8492 to reserve a date for your screening.