February is American Heart Month, which means we are focusing on the ways in which sleep can affect your heart health. Sleep is a vital part of our health, and when your sleep suffers, your whole body can suffer the consequences. One disorder that can really wreak havoc on your sleep is sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person may experience pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses can occur up to 30 times or more per hour. These episodes can cause the sleeper to wake up as they gasp for air. Sleep apnea prevents restful sleep and is associated with high blood pressure, arrhythmia, stroke and heart failure.

One in five adults suffers from at least mild sleep apnea, and it affects more men than women. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea in which weight on the upper chest and neck blocks the air flow to the lungs during sleep.

During an apnea event, when breathing pauses, the oxygen levels in your blood can drop significantly. This causes your brain to send signals to the nervous system to constrict blood vessels to increase the flow of oxygen to your heart and brain. This can cause high blood pressure during sleep. This high blood pressure can overlap into waking hours, which can contribute to heart disease, stroke, heart attack and other heart-related issues.

Obstructive sleep apnea is also closely associated with obesity, which can also contribute to heart disease and stroke risk factors. Sleep apnea can also cause an unhealthy cycle which leads to further obesity, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke.

If you find yourself snoring excessively or tired throughout the day, you may be suffering from sleep apnea. To decrease your risk of heart-related illnesses, it’s important to seek the help of a specialist. Sleep specialists can help diagnose the issue and find a treatment plan to ease the effects of your sleep apnea.

For more information about sleep apnea and to talk with a specialist about treatment options, contact us today!