Question: Can bad sleep affect my heart?
Answer: Many lifestyle choices are associated with heart disease. Poor quality sleep is one of them. I would like to focus on a common sleep malady called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) that affects up to one in every five people.
OSA occurs when a person’s airway becomes blocked. Breathing then stops for a number of seconds. This is known as apnea. Episodes of apnea can occur, in extreme cases, over 100 times per hour! Oxygen levels in the body can decrease during periods of apnea, which stresses the heart and lungs. Our risk of OSA rises with increasing body weight, active smoking and age. In addition, patients with diabetes or “borderline” diabetes have up to three times the risk of having OSA.
Signs while sleeping can include snoring, choking, gasping for air, waking several times per night, and the aforementioned apnea. Symptoms while awake include daytime fatigue despite an apparent good night’s sleep, difficulty concentrating and sleepiness.
The concern from your heart’s point of view is that OSA has been associated with high blood pressure, arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, pulmonary arterial hypertension, and heart rate and rhythm problems, to name a few.
OSA is diagnosed with a sleep study where sleep specialists record your sleep behaviors and assess oxygen levels in a sleep laboratory. OSA can be treated with a sleep mask that attaches to a small machine which keeps one’s airway open during the night, eliminating episodes of apnea. Lifestyle changes including weight loss and avoidance of alcohol are usually recommended as well. Treated patients often start to feel better during the day, are more alert, and many of the associated heart conditions can be improved.
Your heart, just like the rest of your body, needs a deep sleep to rest. If your sleep seems disrupted and you have signs or symptoms described above, ask your doctor if you should be evaluated and treated for sleep apnea.