July 17, 2019 - Wellness

How Sleep Apnea Affects Your Heart Health

From the American Heart Association

Getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night often doesn't take priority in our busy lives—but it should. One in seven Americans don't get enough sleep, which can take a toll on the body over time. Ample quality sleep could be the key to unlocking a healthier you. It can influence your eating habits, mood, memory, and even your heart health.

Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease, Stroke

Snoring can get a little annoying, especially for the person listening to it. But when a snorer repeatedly stops breathing for brief moments, it can lead to cardiovascular problems and potentially be life-threatening. 

This condition is known as sleep apnea, in which the person may stop breathing five to 30+ times per hour. These episodes wake the sleeper as they gasp for air. It prevents restful sleep and is associated with high blood pressure, arrhythmia, stroke, and heart failure. 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and stroke is also a leading cause of death and disability. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for both conditions.

Types of Sleep Apnea

One in five adults suffer from at least mild sleep apnea. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea. This is when the weight on the upper chest and neck restricts a person's airflow. 

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is associated with obesity, which is also a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Besides obesity contributing to sleep apnea, sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea, in an ongoing cycle, can lead to further obesity. 

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is far less prevalent than OSA. In CSA, the brain doesn't send regular signals to the diaphragm to contract and expand. There is limited snoring with CSA, but this condition has been associated with brain stem stroke because the brainstem is responsible for regulating a person's breathing.

Treating Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can be treated through continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP can yield fast results by keeping the body's breathing passages open and oxygen flowing.

5 Tips to Get a Good Night's Rest

To decrease your own risk of cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association encourages you to make some small adjustments to your sleep habits that could make a big difference in your overall health.

1. Add stress-relieving exercise to your day. Walking counts! 

  • Stress can keep you from getting enough sleep. 
  • Exercise can relieve stress and help you sleep well at night. 
  • Mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing can help you relax for the better. 
  • 7 to 9 hours is considered "enough" sleep for most adults.

2. Keep your phone and other electronic devices away from your bed. 

  • Scrolling and staying connected late at night could disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • Going to bed instead of staying up late can help you be more productive the next day.
  • Bright, blue screens may inhibit melatonin production—keeping you awake longer.

3. Set a bedtime for each person in the family.

  • Going to bed and waking up at a consistent time can help you sleep better. 
  • To set your bedtime, figure out your ideal wake time then count backward. 
  • A nightly routine with some downtime could help you stick to your bedtime. 
  • If you've tried everything and still can't sleep well, you may have a sleep disorder. Talk to your doctor for treatment options.

4. Start your morning with a healthy habit, like a quick walk or moment of gratitude.

  • Adding a positive activity to your morning routine could make it easier to get up if you're a late snoozer. 
  • Sleeping through your alarm can make you groggier in the morning. 
  • Habit chaining may help you establish healthier habits, like doing a few push-ups after you brush your teeth.

5. Add a 20-minute power nap to your afternoon. 

  • An afternoon nap can help you re-energize and power through the rest of the day. 
  • "Catching up on sleep" is a myth. Sleeping in on the weekend may disrupt your weekday sleep cycle. 
  • It may take a few weeks to adjust to your new sleep cycle, so stick with a consistent bedtime and take naps when needed.

Additional Resources