How Sleep Apnea Affects The Heart

Keeping your heart in good condition can help you live a long and healthy life -- and a good night’s sleep plays a critical role.

There’s no better time to raise awareness than February, which is officially Heart Month -- and the long-standing tradition of Valentine’s Day. If one bed partner snores loudly, constantly, this takes a toll on the relationship -- and on the snorer’s heart. 

If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s time to get tested for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common form of sleep apnea. With treatment, the snoring will disappear, and the heart-related risks will also be reduced. 
SleepQuest can help, connecting you with a sleep specialist to advise on testing for sleep apnea.

A deeper look at heart health & sleep

There are many factors that contribute to good heart health:

  •  A balanced diet. 
  •  Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle. 
  •  Maintaining a healthy weight. 
  •  Low stress levels. 
  •  Quitting harmful habits like smoking or excessive drinking. 

However, there are other less well-known elements that can reduce or increase the risk of developing cardiovascular problems. One of them is them is enjoying good quality sleep on a regular basis. 

We all go through the occasional restless night, which is nothing to be worried about. But sleep disorders are cause for concern, as they can have a serious negative impact on your health – and especially on cardiovascular health. 

Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most severe sleep disorders. And this disorder often goes undiagnosed. The problem is that the longer it goes undetected, the more at risk your heart health will be.

Why obstructive sleep apnea is dangerous

OSA disrupts the sleep cycle as it causes multiple breathing interruptions over the course of the night. People with OSA stop breathing for up to one minute at the time and wake up gasping or snorting. 

Loud snoring, morning headaches, mood changes, tiredness and concentration problems are common OSA symptoms. 

But the effects of this disorder involve more than just daytime fatigue and restless sleep. Repeated breathing interruptions interfere with the normal flow of oxygen, which is essential to good health. If OSA goes undiagnosed (and therefore untreated), this can become dangerous to the cardiovascular system.

How OSA affects the heart

OSA causes multiple breathing interruptions that put the body under stress; there may be hundreds of these “breathing pauses” in one night. When this happens, the endocrine system switches to overdrive and releases stress hormones. And as we have mentioned earlier in this article, stress is one of the main contributors to cardiovascular disease. 

Putting the body through this type of stress every night can also increase the risk of having a stroke. We now know that high stress levels raise blood pressure and raise the sugar and fat levels circulating through the body. This increases the chances of blood clot formation, and once a clot is formed it can travel to the brain and cause a stroke.

The risk is even higher in people who are overweight or obese, which are also factors that increase the chances of developing OSA. 

In addition to stroke, there are other cardiovascular conditions linked or worsened by OSA:

  • Arrythmia or tachycardia. 
  • Coronary artery disease. 
  • Heart failure. 

Because the stakes are so high, it’s essential to be well informed about the symptoms of OSA. People affected by sleep apnea are rarely aware of their problem, which is more likely to be noticed by their spouse or partner. 

So it’s wise to discuss this condition with family members, especially if you already have cardiovascular problems or have one or more risk factors for OSA (like obesity, being over the age of 50, male gender, having a family history of sleep disorders, or being a smoker).

Talk to a SleepQuest sleep specialist

One more thing to know is that you can’t just self-diagnose. OSA symptoms need to be assessed by a sleep specialist and you can only receive a diagnosis after you undergo an overnight sleep test. 

Another reason why it’s important to get tested by a qualified expert is because this is the way to rule out other sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy or restless leg syndrome.

SleepQuest provides a personalized treatment plan

There’s no reason to worry if tests come back positive and you’re diagnosed with OSA. This is the first step towards better sleep and better cardiovascular health. 

Once you get a diagnosis, your sleep specialist will create a personalized treatment plan. OSA treatment options vary depending of the severity of the condition, and can range from CPAP therapy in the most serious cases to lifestyle and sleep hygiene changes in mild cases. 

SOURCES: Sleep Apnea & Heart Disease

Sleep Foundation: Sleep Apnea Linked to Heart Disease