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Poor Sleep Can Result in Heart Disease
last updated:
Fri, 2/03/2012 10:41 AM

More than 18 million Americans have Sleep Apnea Syndrome*

What is sleep apnea? Sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder in which a person quits breathing for a minimum of 10 seconds while sleeping. Sleep apnea occurs frequently throughout the sleep cycle.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea? Some of the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are:

  • Snoring
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
  • Morning Headaches
  • Bedwetting

So what is the connection between heart disease and poor sleep? People with cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, irregular heartbeat, and diabetes have a high prevalence of sleep apnea. Whether sleep apnea actually causes heart disease is still unclear; however, if you have sleep apnea, the chance that you will develop hypertension in the future increases significantly.

Also, because events that occur while you are sleeping tend to carry over into your daytime or normal “awake” hours, people with moderate to severe sleep apnea often develop high blood pressure.

How does my body react if I have sleep apnea? Your blood pressure rises when you have sleep apnea. Because you stop breathing with sleep apnea, the oxygen levels in your blood often fall below normal levels¬. As a result, your brain sends signals through the nervous system that essentially tell the blood vessels to constrict or "tighten up" in order to increase the flow of oxygen to the vital organs like the heart and the brain. This “tightening” of the blood vessels increases the pressure of the blood flowing through them.

The good news. The good news for patients with heart disease is that with treatment of your sleep apnea, your chances of improving your condition are considerably better. Those who are treated for sleep apnea who also have a heart condition often see significant improvement in the measures of blood pressure, heart failure, and irregular heartbeats.

If you or anyone you know has heart disease, they should discuss the possibility of sleep apnea with their treating physician.

To find out more about disorders that may be impacting your sleep, visit our website at www.methodisthealth.org/sleep.

*According to the National Sleep Foundation.

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Methodist Healthcare is an integrated health care delivery system, dedicated to the art of healing through our faith-based commitment to minister to the whole person. 1211 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38104 • (901) 516-7000

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