In the last few years, there has been an explosion of information linking sleep and heart disease. We have come to understand not only the risks of untreated sleep apnea but also the consequences of insufficient sleep. Every year new studies are published that demonstrate the risks imposed by sleep abnormalities in addition to the mechanisms by which they occur. Here are eight things you should know about the impact of sleep on your cardiovascular health.
1. Sleep apnea has been shown to be a cause of subclinical atherosclerosis. Those with sleep apnea demonstrate both increased thickness and stiffness of the arteries consistent with atherosclerosis.
2. As demonstrated in the Sleep Heart Health Study, cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation are four times more likely to occur in sleep apnea. In addition, after electrical cardioversion, those with untreated sleep apnea are twice as likely to go back into atrial fibrillation.
3. Heart attacks: In a recent study published in the International Journal of Cardiology, patients who suffered a heart attack and had their sleep apnea treated were three times less likely to have a recurrence than those who remained untreated.
4. Heart failure: When associated sleep apnea is treated, significant improvement in cardiac function and quality of life is noted. Untreated sleep apnea will result in further loss and injury to the remaining heart muscle and early death.
5. The incidence of sleep apnea in those suffering a stroke or TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) is 44 – 72 percent in various studies. This is statistically much higher than expected. If untreated, not only is the recurrence rate high, but rehabilitation is impaired.
6. Chronic sleep duration of six hours or less has been shown in a major series of studies called the Penn State Cohort to result in an increased incidence of hypertension and diabetes.
7. Insufficient sleep results in a triggering of the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Axis) and release of mediators of inflammation. These in turn result in an increased incidence of hypertension, atherosclerosis, and heart attack.
8. Children: Obesity in early life promotes atherosclerotic disease in vascular structures such as the aorta and the coronary arteries. Insufficient sleep is a major cause of childhood obesity. In many cases, parents just don’t know how many hours of sleep their children actually need. Take the time to educate yourself. The information is readily available.