Back to articles

Do more than dream of a healthy heart

Adventist Health Health and Wellness

Everyone tells you that you need to catch your Z's, but did you know that sleep also affects your heart health?

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that causes pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. These pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes (scary but true). When breathing pauses or becomes shallow, you'll often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep. This could be why you're falling asleep at that 10 a.m. meeting, even when you've had a full night's rest.

Sleep apnea is underdiagnosed because symptoms can be hard to detect: you may have it if you snore, or you feel tired even after a full night’s sleep. Consider seeing a doctor if you snore loud enough to disturb the sleep of others or yourself, experience shortness of breath or choking during sleep or can't seem to shake your daytime drowsiness.

How sleep affects your heart

A more serious side of sleep apnea to consider-it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Up to 50 percent of people with heart disease have sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can also lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, erectile dysfunction, depression and hypertension.

"Lack of sleep creates low oxygen levels connected to inflammation in blood vessels, leading to higher levels of blood clotting," says Dr. Vanessa Peterson, a sleep medicine expert at Adventist Health's Sleep Clinic. "Repeated pauses in breathing while sleeping puts the body in a constant state of stress and over the course of several years it takes a toll."

Dr. Peterson will be presenting at noon at "A Fair of the Heart" on February 28, an annual event held in celebration of American Heart Month. The event encourages Portlanders to learn more about their heart health and sleep disorder risk, and to talk with their primary care providers.

Men are more likely to have sleep apnea; however, women increase their risk if they’re overweight, and their risk also rises after menopause.

Adventist Health's tips to sleep better

Like owning a dog or maintaining a car, managing sleep apnea is a long-term commitment. Making lifestyle changes and taking preventative measures can keep other medical problems at bay. Consider treatments like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask placed over your nose while you sleep.

In many cases, self-care may be the best way for you to deal with sleep apnea. Knowing the health numbers that count can help prevent the onset of sleep apnea and heart disease (and keep you healthy overall to boot!).

  • Lose excess weight. Even a slight loss in excess weight can relieve constriction of your throat. Sleep apnea may go into complete remission in some cases if you return to a healthy weight. Calculate your BMI (body mass index), a good indicator of a healthy weight for adult men and women, no matter your body frame size. This number is based on your weight in relation to your height. If you have a BMI of 25 or higher, you may have increased health risks.
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep. There's no magic number, but adults should make sure to get enough sleep each night.
  • Exercise 30 minutes each day. Regular exercise can help ease symptoms of sleep apnea even without weight loss. Aim to get 30 minutes of moderate daily activity.
  • If you're going to drink alcohol, limit consumption because alcohol interferes with sleep.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking worsens obstructive sleep apnea.

To learn more about how sleep can affect our heart health, please join us for "A Fair of the Heart" on February 28, 2016.