Can Sleep Impact Heart Health? By Jeffrey P. Barasch, M.D., FACCP, FAASM, Medical Director, Center for Sleep Medicine, The Valley Hospital
 
Jeffrey P. Barasch, M.D., FACCP, FAASM, Medical Director, Center for Sleep Medic
 

You have probably heard that not getting enough quality sleep can impact your day to day performance, but did you know that inadequate or disturbed sleep can also negatively impact your heart health? As Americans increasingly cut back on sleep in favor of social, leisure, or work-related activities, the relation of sleep disorders to cardiac disease is becoming clearer. Sleep disorders have emerged as being related to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

One common condition, sleep apnea, contributes to many cardiac consequences. Patients with untreated sleep apnea have a several fold increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes. Patients with sleep apnea have interruptions of their breathing during sleep caused by a collapse of the airway in the throat. When this occurs, the heart rate rises, the oxygen level in the blood drops, and sleep is disrupted. This has harmful effects on the body. Studies have shown that the most common time for sudden death in patients with sleep apnea is from midnight to 6:00 am. In addition, patients with coronary disease are at an increased risk of night time chest pain and sudden death if they have untreated sleep apnea. About two-thirds of patients admitted to the hospital with angina or heart attacks have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is present in two-thirds of people who have congestive heart failure, and is found in 40-50 percent of people with hypertension (high blood pressure). The presence of sleep apnea triples the odds of someone developing high blood pressure. Furthermore, patients with sleep apnea are more likely to develop cardiac arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation.

The good news is that treatment of sleep apnea with CPAP has been shown to improve heart function in patients with heart failure, and it increases the success of treatment of heart arrhythmias. There are also reduced hospital readmissions in people with heart disease and sleep apnea who are being treated for sleep apnea.

The best advice for people who have cardiac disease is to identify and treat an underlying sleep disorder, if they have one, and for those who have a sleep disorder to continue treatment to avoid developing or exacerbating a cardiac or other medical problem.

There is also evidence that the amount of sleep people regularly get has an impact on cardiac health. One study showed that women who sleep less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours have an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Other studies have also shown that sleep deprivation, whether due to insufficient sleep or disturbed sleep due to sleep disorders, leads to an increase in appetite, especially for carbohydrates and fatty foods, which can lead to weight gain.

The amount of sleep that we need every night depends on our age. The National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend that adult receive at least 7 hours of sleep nightly for optimal health.

If you regularly experience daytime drowsiness, fatigue or disturbed sleep, consider consulting with a sleep medicine specialist to evaluate and treat the problem.

For more information or to schedule an appointment at Valley’s Center for Sleep Medicine, call 201-251-3487.