Sleep Disorders Linked to Heart Failure

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), February 21, 2008 | Go to article overview

Sleep Disorders Linked to Heart Failure


Byline: Matthew Trojan For The Register-Guard

During my cardiology fellowship, I was fascinated by everything related to the heart. Because I was curious about studies that linked lack of sleep with an increased risk of heart failure, I tried a personal experiment.

When I kept long hours on call and was extremely sleep deprived, I occasionally would check my blood pressure. And sure enough, my blood pressure was elevated during those times, giving real-life validity to the studies I'd read.

Today, there's even more compelling (and more scientific) research showing that too little sleep raises the risk of heart disease.

In 2003, researchers studying nearly 72,000 nurses reported that women who averaged five hours of sleep a night or less were 39 percent more likely to develop heart disease than women who slept for eight hours. The researchers suggested that getting enough sleep may be nearly as important to heart health as eating right and exercising. And they pointed out that an estimated one-third of Americans have long-term sleep deprivation.

Among the most common sleep disorders is obstructive sleep apnea, fairly common in overweight patients.

When people with sleep apnea fall asleep, the muscles of the head, neck and face relax, and the weight of that tissue blocks their breathing tube. The body tries to breathe, but the airway is obstructed and the body goes into panic mode. The person will wake up and sputter for breath, and the cycle repeats over and over, preventing truly restful sleep.

When breathing stops during episodes of apnea, carbon dioxide levels in the blood increase and oxygen levels drop. This effect a cascade of complex physical and chemical events that can then increase risk for heart problems.

Heart failure is the most common diagnosis among people age 65 and older who are admitted to the hospital. Because we're about to experience a tidal wave of baby boomers turning 65, heart failure is becoming an enormous public health issue. …

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