Sleep and heart health are connected, but more studies are needed before we fully understand the link between sleep and heart disease. People with poor sleep habits often exhibit heart disease symptoms, but sleeplessness and restlessness can also occur as a result of heart disease, including breathing problems due to fluid accumulation in the lungs. Some heart disease symptoms interfere with sleep because they activate physical and hormonal responses designed to protect our bodies from damage.
Sleep and Heart Health
A link exists between poor sleep and heart disease symptoms such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and heart failure. The connection can be traced to the body’s inflammatory response, a reaction to infection or disease. Inflammation activates fright and stress mechanisms that can keep heart disease sufferers awake.
A lack of sleep may be an indirect cause of heart disease, since poor sleep can interfere with hormones related to hunger, thereby increasing weight gain. Obesity and diabetes are a risk factor for several forms of heart disease.
Heart Disease and Sleep Apnea
Heart failure may be a cause of sleep apnea, a condition that triggers a cycle of stopping breathing, waking up and breathing again throughout the night.
In obstructive sleep apnea, the upper airway narrows or even collapses during sleep. This causes the person’s breathing to be interrupted, which can deprive the body and the heart of much-needed oxygen and lead to variety of heart disease symptoms. Sleep apnea can cause the person to partially rouse, sometimes disturbing sleep hundreds of times a night.
In addition to decreasing the body’s oxygen intake, sleep apnea causes a person’s body to enter “fight-or-flight” mode. This decreases the amount of blood that is pumped to the heart so that it can be rerouted to the brain and large muscles in anticipation of the fight or flight.
Tips for Treating Sleep Apnea
If you suffer from sleep apnea, you can take steps to reduce your symptoms. If your sleep apnea is caused by obesity, consult your doctor about establishing a diet and exercise plan.
The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is called nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). In this technique, the patient wears a mask that keeps airways open by pushing air into them.
Sleep and Heart Health: General Sleeping Tips
The following recommendations reduce poor sleep habits and help you manage the link between sleep and heart disease:
- Get out of your bed if you can’t sleep.
- Use your bed only for sex and sleeping.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
- To keep your mind from racing, maintain an uncluttered bedroom and stop watching television at least one hour before sleep.
American Heart Association. (2008). Sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease. Retrieved November 10, 2010, from http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/118/10/1080
Harvard Health Publications. (2010). Poor sleep habits: Heart disease and sleep apnea. Retrieved November 10, 2010, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/sleep-habits
Women’s Heart Foundation. (2007). Sleep disturbances: Hearts at risk. Retrieved November 10, 2010, from http://www.womensheart.org/content/HeartDisease/sleep_disturbances.asp