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How Your Sleep Can Affect Your Heart

February is American Heart Month. This month is an excellent time to learn about ways to stay heart healthy and why it is essential. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer worldwide, affecting 1 in 3 Americans in some form. There are 16.5 million Americans who are age 20 and older who are living with coronary heart disease.

People who don’t get enough sleep or get poor quality of sleep are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Sleep Disorders Can Affect the Heart

When we sleep, it allows our body to repair, rejuvenate and restore itself, in fact, sleep helps in the healing and repairing of the heart and blood vessels. 50% of people who see a heart specialist have a sleep disorder that needs to be treated. Sleep deprivation and sleep apnea are two sleep disorders that have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease. Sleep deprivation, even losing just a couple hours a night, can affect your ability to function as usual.

Many people with sleep disorders don’t realize they have one; obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common sleep disorder in the US and one that is associated with high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure. Those with sleep apnea experience pauses or stops in breathing many times a night, due to a temporary blockage of air flow.

OSA prevents restful sleep and often goes undiagnosed. This is because unless a partner notices snoring or snorts throughout the night, those with OSA will likely feel tired but not know why. Sleep apnea can cause stress on the heart; it is an identifiable cause of high blood pressure. People with OSA are 4x more likely to have atrial fibrillation and have 30% higher risk of a heart attack. Learn more about the consequences of sleep disorder.

Sleep disorders contribute to, causes, or can worsen the following heart conditions:

• Hypertension
• Cardiomyopathies
• Congestive Heart Failure
• Atrial Fibrillation
• Valvular Heart Disease
• Pulmonary Hypertension
• Edema
• PVC, PAC, Palpitations

Symptoms of a sleep disorder:

• Snoring
• Excessive Sleepiness
• Fatigue
• Emotional Lability
• Abnormal Nocturnal Movement
• Poor Memory
• Insomnia
• Poor Mood
• Apneas (Pauses or stops in breathing while sleeping)
• Poor Cognition

Improving Your Sleep

If you experience any of the above symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor about whether you could have a sleep disorder. They may refer you to a home sleep test or an in lab test depending on your symptoms. If a sleep disorder is not at the root of your sleep troubles, there are ways to change sleeping habits to improve sleep.

We recommend minimizing disruptions from electronics and pets when you sleep. White noise machines can also block out changes in noises throughout the night if needed. The darkness of a room triggers melatonin to create better sleep, minimize all lights by using curtains or sleep masks can help create a good sleep environment.

Sleep Disorder Treatment Options

If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, talk to your sleep specialist about what treatment option is the best fit for you. A CPAP machine is one option, this breathing device provides continuous positive airway pressure while you sleep. Other treatments include Mandibular advancement devices, Inspire therapy or even surgery.

Improving sleep by treating a sleep disorder is an important part of staying healthy and can reduce the risk factors for heart disease.