Sleep Apnea and Your Heart
Sleep Apnea and Your Heart

That snore may be doing more than annoying your spouse. According to the Sleep Foundation, 34% of men and 17% of women have sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when insufficient air makes it through the passageways thereby lowering the oxygen levels in your blood. Your brain senses the problem and signals your body to rouse you from sleep. This is the most common type of sleep apnea.

The more rare central sleep apnea is when you go short periods without breathing while asleep because the brain doesn’t send signals to the muscles to control breathing, as it should.

The drops in blood oxygen increase your blood pressure, straining the cardiovascular system. This can cause hypertension over time, and may also increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and abnormal heartbeat such as atrial fibrillation. If you already have heart disease, apnea can lead to sudden death from an irregular heartbeat.


One of the more obvious signs of sleep apnea is snoring, usually reported by someone sleeping nearby. If you wake gasping for breath, awaken with a very dry mouth and frequently experience daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea may be the culprit. Other indicators include morning headaches, irritability, difficulty concentrating and suffering from insomnia.


To find out if you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor. Typically, a sleep study will be done either at your home or at a sleep center. You’ll be hooked up to equipment that will measure your blood oxygen levels and heart, lung and brain activity, as well as the movements of your limbs.


If you have mild obstructive sleep apnea, you might first try lifestyle changes. Things like quitting smoking, losing weight, changing medications or avoiding/limiting alcohol are all steps that will help your heart, as well. You’ll be instructed to sleep on your side, or propped up if on your back. If allergies contribute to sleep apnea, you’ll get treatment for them.

You may be given an oral device or appliance that will help align your jaw and mouth properly to allow airflow. For some, surgery to remove or shrink tissues in the throat will be necessary.

Probably the most common treatment is with CPAP or BPAP, where masks are worn at bedtime to administer a regular flow of oxygen. Most people find that once they adjust to the equipment, they are more well-rested and feel better overall. And even more important, they will have taken a major step to improve their heart health!