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Sleep Apnea and Your Heart

Written by Feb 21 • 2 minute read

Let's be real: a lot of us could do with more sleep. While it's true that as you become an adult, your body will naturally require less sleep to reach optimal functionality, adulting sometimes means choosing to sleep even less than that and surrendering your tomorrow to the holy power of a venti pumpkin spice latte. But if you're getting enough hours of sleep and still find yourself visiting your local caffeine shrine, you may be dealing with something too big for coffee to solve.


The bags under your eyes will never be heavy enough to topple our national addiction to caffeine

Sleep apnea is a disease marked by a person's inability to get a full night's rest. With sleep apnea, a person experiences a pause in their breathing, which triggers the body to enter a state of micro-arousal where the body wakes itself up just enough to resume normal breathing again but usually not enough for someone to become conscious. This cycle repeats throughout the night, often occurring 5 to 30 times an hour. Sure, you'll be fighting fatigue and drowsiness, but it's more than just a bummer and mild inconvenience. Sleep apnea can cause serious damage to your heart.

In a study published in Circulation: Heart Failure, U.K. researchers studied the evaluations of 40 patients with obstructive sleep apnea and compared them to 40 patients with high blood pressure and a control group of 40 healthy people. Speaking on the results, Dr. Gregory Lip said, “Our findings imply that OSA could be crucial in the development of left ventricular diastolic dysfunction that can lead to heart failure and increased mortality if left untreated.” Gregory Y. H. Lip, M.D. is a researcher at the University of Birmingham Center for Cardiovascular Sciences in Birmingham, U.K.

The National Sleep Foundation noted that patients with obstructive sleep apnea had "abnormal cardiac structure and performance changes typically associated with chronic high blood pressure, even though their blood pressure was only moderately elevated."

This is because, to help wake your body after it stops breathing during sleep, your body releases the stress hormone epinephrine. This causes your heart rate to rapidly accelerate and increases your blood pressure. And remember, this is a process that could be repeating 30 times an hour, so the stress hormone levels stay elevated throughout the night. With sleep apnea, your body can also experience abnormal levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, pressure changes in the chest, and increased inflammation markers. 

Over time, these changes can lead to conditions such as chronic high blood pressure and a thickening of the heart walls which in turn increase the risk of irregular heartbeats and hamper the heart's ability to function properly.

A lot of the symptoms of sleep apnea are similar to those of someone who's a "night owl" with an "early bird" kind of job: fatigue, drowsiness, inattentiveness, unholy quantities of coffee, an unfortunate faux pas, oh my~. But if you feel that way even with a responsible amount of sleep, we'd suggest getting yourself screened for Sleep Apnea. 


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