How Interrupted Breathing Can Impact Your Heart Rate

Interrupted breathing is a primary symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – and can greatly affect your heart’s function. OSA has been specifically linked to a chronic condition known as bradycardia. In order to better appreciate the risks, it is first a good idea to examine bradycardia.

What is Bradycardia?

Bradycardia is a medical term used to describe an abnormally low heart rate. For most adults, resting rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM) is considered normal. 

Of course, resting heart rates will also be determined by other variables such as age and health. Extremely fit and active individuals may have heart rates that are significantly slower. 

There are many causes of bradycardia and a handful of the most common are:

  • Heart rate problems.
  • Metabolic problems such as hypothyroidism.
  • Genetic (congenital) heart defects.
  • Complications following heart surgery.
  • Certain medications as well as chemical imbalances within the bloodstream.

Also, older people are more prone to develop bradycardia due to the simple fact that like any muscle, the heart can suffer from age-related issues over time. 

Obstructive sleep apnea is of particular interest, as it is one of the few conditions that can be effectively treated -- helping to reduce the risks associated with bradycardia. 

How Does Sleep Apnea Impact Heart Rate?

Most people experience a low heart rate while asleep. This makes perfect sense when we consider that the body is at rest. This is normally when baseline rates of between 60 and 100 bpm occur. 

However, there may be times when these rates begin to jump. Changes in heartbeats can be seen during active REM (rapid eye movement) cycles. 

The main problem here is that those with sleep apnea may have a heart rate that is below normal. What is the inherent relationship?

One of the most prevalent side effects of OSA involves the inability of the body to receive oxygen due to an interrupted breathing cycle. This makes it much more likely that the rate of your heart will begin to slow. In the event that it falls below normal levels, bradycardia may develop. 

Pediatric Concerns

Many infants and newborns experience symptoms that can be attributed to OSA. However, this is often caused by developmental issues as opposed to a chronic health condition. 

The symptoms tend to resolve themselves without the need for any type of medical intervention. Babies are therefore more likely to exhibit low heart rates that can be classified as bradycardia. 

What are the Risks of Bradycardia?

Because it is heart-related, this condition should be taken seriously. One primary reason involves the fact that the most common symptom of bradycardia is feeling dizzy or lightheaded. 

If you have OSA, these signs may go unnoticed. This can lead to more severe consequences over time including:

  • Poor circulation in the extremities.
  • Heart can’t efficiently pump blood (heart failure).
  • Sudden cardiac arrest.
  • In the most serious cases, death.

It is now clear to see why it’s critical to see a doctor regularly. There are a number of sleep apnea treatments – but you must first get a diagnosis. If you snore loudly, wake up gasping for breath, feel very fatigued during the day – you may have sleep apnea. 

A doctor must make the diagnosis, typically based on results from a test to monitor your breathing during the night. If your test shows symptoms of sleep apnea, treatment can help you avoid heart rate problems.

How is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treated?

Effectively treating OSA normally revolves around addressing its physical effects. This can be accomplished with the help of a wearable device known as a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine. 

The device helps provide your body with the oxygen that it requires while ensuring that your airways remain open while asleep. 

There are many different types of PAPs available; your doctor will explain the options and help decide which works best for you. When used as recommended, the chances are high that your OSA symptoms (and therefore any signs of bradycardia) will begin to improve over time. 

There are additional steps to take if you hope to effectively manage your sleep apnea symptoms. Examples include:

  • Getting plenty of exercise.
  • Quitting cigarettes.
  • Drinking in moderation.
  • Developing a normal sleep cycle.
  • Adopting a healthy diet.

Although bradycardia is often considered a lesser-known symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, its potential effects should be taken quite seriously. If you would like to learn more, make it a point to speak with a trained professional.