A bad night's sleep is hard on your heart
As Jane started to pour her third cup of coffee, her husband Bill looked at her quizzically. "I'm exhausted, and I've got a huge headache," Jane said defensively. "I didn't sleep well last night."
"I can't believe that," Bill replied. "You were snoring your head off."
If you've been told you snore loudly and gasp for air when sleeping, are extremely sleepy during the day, and have trouble concentrating, you should consult your healthcare provider. You may have sleep apnea, a condition that causes you to stop breathing as often as 30 or more times every hour. Each pause in breathing can last anywhere from 10 seconds to one minute.
Who's at risk?
The majority of people with sleep apnea don't even realize they have it. But research has shown that sleep apnea can triple the risk of high blood pressure. In addition, the risk of hypertension is 45 percent greater. Heart attacks and heart rhythm disturbances are also more common.
"Sleep apnea causes your blood pressure to rise significantly during the night," says Marlene Dietrich, MD, of PeaceHealth Medical Group Sleep Center. "And every time you stop breathing, your blood is robbed of needed oxygen. Over time, sleep apnea may damage blood vessel walls, which can lead to hypertension, increased risk of heart attack or stroke, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), and other heart problems."
Men are more likely than women to have sleep apnea, at least until menopause, after which the risk equalizes. Particular factors associated with increased risk include:
§ Is age 50 or older
§ Is overweight
§ Has a receding chin, a thick neck, a narrow windpipe, enlarged adenoids or tonsils, or excess tissue in the throat
§ Loud snoring
If you have mild sleep apnea, Dr. Dietrich recommends these tips for self-care:
§ Avoid near bedtime — and avoid taking sedatives or sleeping pills if possible. These can interfere with respiratory drive during sleep.
§ Lose some weight if you need to.
§ Avoid sleeping on your back. Try sewing a tennis ball into the back of your sleepwear if you snore more on your back. It will keep you from rolling onto your back while asleep.
"People with moderate or severe sleep apnea may need medical treatment," Dr. Dietrich continues. "Masks with pressurized airflow are effective 95 percent of the time. Also, mouth devices worn during sleep can push the jaw forward and prevent airway collapse. In addition, surgical procedures are available as a last resort, to help open up narrowed airways.
"It's important for you and your partner to get a good night's sleep," Dr. Dietrich concludes. "Moreover, dealing with sleep apnea is vital for the health of your brain, lungs and heart."