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We’ve previously discussed the significant impact that sleep deprivation can have on your heart and your health in general.  One of the main links to sleep deprivation is a sleeping disorder known as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is linked to a general lack of sleep, chronic daytime sleepiness, and many cardiovascular issues including high blood pressure, heart disease, and heart arrhythmia.  

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes a person’s breathing during sleep to pause due to blocked airways, or issues with muscle control.  Generally, a person will fall asleep and have a significant pause in breathing that will ultimately cause them to wake up multiple times throughout the night.  In severe sleep apnea cases, this can happen for an individual hundreds of times throughout the night, causing a very unsteady sleep pattern. According to Harvard Health, sleep apnea is found in 47-83% of individuals with cardiovascular disease; and research estimates that those with untreated sleep apnea have an increased risk of death due to heart disease.

The most common form of sleep apnea, known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused due to the upper airway collapsing, thus becoming blocked during sleep.  When the airway becomes blocked, breathing is paused, and oxygen levels decrease. As an emergency response, your body then releases a stress hormone known as epinephrine.  Depending on the severity of OSA and how many times your body is releasing the hormone, your epinephrine levels can remain consistently high, thus leading to high blood pressure.  High blood pressure during sleep doesn’t necessarily end there. Often, the increase in blood pressure can remain consistent, thus leading to other heart-related problems such as stroke and heart attack.

Because sleep apnea disorders are a common problem for many adults, treatments to combat the issue have been developed and proven successful in managing and improving breathing function during sleep.  A common form of treatment for those with OSA is the regular use of a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP). This machine requires patients to wear a mask when sleeping; the machine keeps air pressure in the breathing passages, so they don’t collapse during a sleeping period.  Studies have shown that treating OSA with a CPAP machine may improve overall heart function and lower an individual’s risk of developing further cardiovascular issues. Additionally, for those that find a mask to be uncomfortable, or need a less involved form of treatment, specialize mouthpieces are also available and serve as successful forms of treatment depending on the patient’s severity.