Sleep's impact on heart health

Feb 1,2012
When it comes to risk factors for heart disease, there are only a few things that can be controlled. Sleep may be one of the easiest to address.

People with untreated sleep apnea, a condition that disrupts breathing while sleeping, are at much greater risk for hypertension, stroke and heart failure.

“Genetics. Being male. These are things that you can’t control. But sleep apnea is very treatable,” said Mark Reploeg, MD, medical director for the Samaritan Sleep Medicine Program and board-certified sleep medicine specialist at The Corvallis Clinic.

And not only does sleep apnea put people at greater risk for heart disease, having heart disease can also make sleep apnea worse.

“It’s a two-way street,” Reploeg explained. “People with heart failure can also develop another form of sleep apnea and other types of breathing problems.”

Signs of sleep apnea include loud snoring, not sleeping well and feeling very tired during the day. The most common form of treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device which is a mask that keeps the airway open.

With sleep apnea, the frequent drops in oxygen levels and reduced sleep quality cause the release of stress hormones, compounds that raise heart rate and increase risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. These hormones can also cause spikes in blood sugar levels for people with diabetes, and raise the risk for heart failure and irregular heartbeat, or atrial fibrillation.

“Anyone with atrial fibrillation needs to be evaluated for sleep apnea,” Reploeg said.

By treating sleep apnea, people with atrial fibrillation were 50 percent less likely to have recurrent symptoms versus those left untreated. Treating sleep apnea can be as effective as using medications to prevent atrial fibrillation, without the toxic side effects.

Reploeg suggested talking to your primary health care provider about any sleep concerns.

Visit samhealth.org/sleep to take the sleep apnea quiz and learn about Samaritan sleep centers and labs in Albany, Corvallis and Newport. Our staff works collaboratively with sleep specialists from The Corvallis Clinic Sleep Medicine Department to diagnose and treat a variety of neurological and sleep-related disorders.