The heart disease link to sleep apnea and sleep deprivation

Sleep is supposed to be the time when your body repairs, but for some, sleep apnea or a lack of quality sleep may be increasing their risk for heart disease. 

Simple snoring is a problem in bedrooms across the world. But 1 in 5 adults have at least mild sleep apnea. They stop breathing for periods while they’re asleep.

While it’s not breathing, your body reflexively responds to the lack of oxygen by releasing adrenaline. Your heart beat accelerates, and your blood pressure rises.

Sleep apnea and heart disease

When this happens over and over, the damage extends beyond fatigue and drowsy driving. It can damage your heart.

Sleep apnea is linked to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), atrial fibrillation (a common type of irregular heartbeat), heart failure, heart attacks and strokes. Sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure, a known link to heart disease.

Lack of sleep’s effects on the heart

Other sleep disorders and even night shift work can cause sleep deprivation and increase your heart disease risk.

While researchers caution that the links behind shortened sleep and heart disease are not completely understood, there is evidence that lack of sleep can put a strain on the cardiovascular system.

“What we do know is that good-quality sleep decreases the work of your heart, as blood pressure and heart rate go down at night. Lack of sleep causes increased periods of work for the heart and vascular system,” said David Winslow, M.D., pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist with Norton Pulmonary Specialists.

Learn your links to heart disease

Despite efforts to diagnose and treat heart disease early, many Americans are unaware of their risk. Are you one of them?

Sleep deprivation can also increase insulin resistance. That can lead to Type 2 diabetes, which has a clear tie to heart disease.

I have never had trouble sleeping — do I have to worry?

Some sleep disorders can develop over time due to an increase in weight and/or age. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in which weight on the upper chest and neck can block air flow.

The upper airway closes off because the muscles that hold it open lose muscle tone. While obesity can contribute to this loss of tone, women also often experience loss of tone with the onset of menopause.

If someone tells you that you snore heavily and/or have periods where your breathing pauses and then you gasp, it is worth investigating. If you have excessive daytime sleepiness or fatigue, restless sleep or trouble staying asleep, or have difficulty concentrating, these could be signs of sleep apnea.


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