Snoring isn’t pleasant for anyone – not the partner who has to sleep beside the snorer, nor the snorer whose breathing may pause repeatedly throughout the night. But did you know that loud, excessive snoring is often a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that – if left untreated – can cause you to be five times more likely to die from heart disease?
Along with good nutrition and regular exercise, healthy sleep is essential for a healthy heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S, so treating sleep apnea is good for your sleep and your heart.
According to the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project, obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic disease that afflicts at least 25 million U.S. adults.
“Obstructive sleep apnea is destroying the health of millions of Americans, and the problem has only gotten worse over the last two decades,” says Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a national spokesperson for the Healthy Sleep Project. The project is a collaboration between the AASM, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Sleep Research Society and other partners.
Sleep apnea involves repetitive pauses in breathing during sleep, which can put an enormous strain on the heart. Severe sleep apnea can reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood and cause dangerous surges in your blood pressure. This stress triggers your body to respond in ways that may promote heart disease.
Sleep apnea may be far more common than you think. Between 30 percent and 40 percent of adults with high blood pressure also have sleep apnea. The rate of sleep apnea soars to 80 percent among people with high blood pressure that do not respond to treatment with medications. Research even shows that sleep apnea can affect the shape, size and performance of your heart.
“The good news is that detecting and treating sleep apnea can improve your heart health and other clinical outcomes,” Morgenthaler says.
The primary treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure therapy. CPAP therapy keeps your airway open by providing a stream of air through a mask that you wear during sleep. Treating sleep apnea with CPAP therapy improves blood pressure control and reduces the risk of heart disease. It can even reverse the changes to the shape and size of the heart that can be caused by sleep apnea.
Excess body weight is the leading risk factor for sleep apnea, and loud snoring is a common symptom. Other warning signs for sleep apnea include choking or gasping during sleep, and daytime fatigue or sleepiness. Visit stopsnoringpledge.org to pledge to “Stop the Snore” by talking to a doctor about your risk for sleep apnea.
“Treatment of sleep apnea can be life-changing and potentially life-saving,” Morgenthaler says. “For the best possible clinical outcomes, people with heart disease should discuss their risk for sleep apnea with their doctor.”
For more information, visit projecthealthysleep.org.