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Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease: 4 Facts You Should Know

By Lan Pham, Kyle Kirkland
Getting a restful night’s sleep isn’t just good for your energy levels—it’s good for your heart too. Here’s how sleep apnea and heart disease are connected.

“Heart disease” is actually an umbrella term for several heart conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease, which can cause disruptions in cardiac blood flow and heart attack. Sleep apnea, a disorder that causes breathing interruptions during sleep, has been associated with several cardiovascular diseases. Here’s what you need to know about the links between sleep apnea and heart disease.

Disrupted sleep can lead to high blood pressure.

The typical adult needs 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep. Those who have sleep apnea may experience a range of sleep disruptions—from brief rousings that are imperceptible but interrupt a healthy sleep cycle nonetheless, to full awakenings that make it difficult to fall back asleep. 

These sleep interruptions can have serious repercussions for heart health. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control notes that adults who sleep less than 7 hours per day have an increased risk of developing both high blood pressure and heart disease. 

Interrupted sleep can cause your blood pressure to stay higher for longer, and high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, decreases the amount of blood and oxygen that reaches the heart and can cause heart disease.

Many cardiovascular problems co-occur with sleep apnea. 

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. 

“The prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea is highfrom 40% to 80%in patients with hypertension, heart failure, coronary artery disease, pulmonary hypertension, atrial fibrillation, and stroke,” Ragavendra Baliga, M.D., cardiologist and professor of Internal Medicine/Cardiology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Central sleep apnea, another form of the condition, is also associated with heart disorders. Mayo Clinic notes that people with irregular heartbeats and congestive heart failure are at a greater risk for central sleep apnea. 

Sleep apnea can cause the heart to overwork. 

When you don’t get enough sleep, your heart has to work harder to make up for the lack of energy.

“The heart pumps 20% of the cardiac output to the brain & remaining to other organs like the liver, muscles, and kidney. During sleep apnea, the oxygenation to the brain & these organs is reduced, so the heart has to pump harder. This results in elevated blood pressure and a rapid/irregular heartbeat,” Baliga says. 

Sleep apnea can increase heart disease mortality. 

Not getting enough sleep may lead to heart disease, but the story doesn’t end there. Researchers estimate that untreated sleep apnea may increase the risk of dying from heart disease by up to five times, according to the Harvard Medical School.

Think you may have sleep apnea? Start your journey to more restful sleep TODAY.

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively affect your physical and emotional health. Sleep testing can help you get the answers you need to receive the treatment you deserve. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.